A visit to any of the popular day-trip ski areas around Middletown and you’re likely going to see kids doing race training on a closed-off slope. Among those racing kids are probably some future U.S. Olympic team members. Many of those children will also become ski or snowboard instructors.

Several nearby ski resorts have among the best, most comprehensive racing programs in the Northeast. Ski Windham, in the northern Catskills, has the biggest racing program in the state with around 300 participants, followed by Mount Peter. Catamount, near Hillsdale, and Hunter Mountain also have very large and successful programs.

These programs are very comprehensive and demanding, not only for the kids, but for their parents. There are serious financial and time commitments with program costs from $600-1,300 per year, not including the season passes that would add several hundred dollars more. And, it means the kids have to be at the ski areas up to an hour before opening, which is typically around 8:30 a.m. on weekends and in all kinds of weather conditions. And, that means the parents have to follow the same routine, getting the children prepared and to the slopes on time. Then, there’s additional travel to competitions, which are held at a number of participating ski areas in the region.

All that said, the benefits are numerous and provide a lifetime learning experience for the kids. Not all the children have intense competitive spirits but the skiing and snowboarding skills that are developed will stay with them forever. It’s not hard to tell when you see an older skier or snowboarder that is really good and has a racing form that is a result of their days in racing programs.

The programs are typically structured in age groups combined with developmental racing skills and different levels of competition series that could involve racing programs at other mountains, or at the home mountain within age groups. For example, at Catamount, the Junior Race program has been designed for kids and adolescents ages 7 to 20. They will train actively by running gates and competing against themselves and program members at other mountains.

Catamount has two alternatives within the Junior Race program. One is the Interclub program, which takes a more recreational approach but does include competitions at five different ski areas per season. The other is the Tri-state program and it’s for more serious racers and features coaching at Catamount, along with racing throughout the region most weekends.

Mount Peter has four types of programs. The Mount Peter Racing program is designed for children ages 8 and up and includes adults. It is for the most serious competitors looking to compete in U.S. Ski and Snowboard (USSA) sanctioned events. There’s gate training weekends and weeknights, and the training is done with USSA coaches.

The Mount Peter Dynamites program is for children ages 6-11 that are intermediate-level skiers. They will hone their skiing skills but also be introduced in instructional phases of ski racing. The Development program is the next level and takes intermediate and expert skiing kids, ages 7-11, and is designed to improve their skills, including intensive gate training and participation in races at other mountains, within the Youth Ski League competition series. The two programs are held on weekends. Mount Peter also has the high school crossover program designed for school racers that want additional training on weekends with the ski area’s top USSA coaches.

While racing programs are well under way this season, now is a good time to start planning ahead for next season. Ski area web sites have detailed information on their programs along with costs and enrollment forms.

Better weather ahead 

Rain, rain, go away already! The constant rains have made for a challenging ski and snowboard season for the past couple weeks. The longer-term forecast is positive, though, with some seasonable cold on the horizon.

It was bad enough on Saturday that Mount Peter, in Warwick, closed for the day, as did several other ski resorts in our area. Ironically, the conditions have been pretty decent if you could get over the lack of “ambiance” snow, the lack of sun, and the freeze and thaw cycles. Ski area operators have been kept on their toes by this weather pattern but they have doggedly produced manmade snow at every opportunity.

I skied at Hunter Mountain, near Tannersville, in the Catskills last Thursday and Friday and there were some surprise snow squalls that produced a couple inches of powder on top of the groomed granular, making for some excellent skiing and riding. Hunter has made incredible amounts of snow to seemingly stay one step ahead of a nasty Mother Nature.

I skied at Catamount, on the New York and Massachusetts border of Route 23, on Sunday. It wound up snowing pretty hard for a few hours as a cold front moved through the area, providing about a half-inch coating to at least make it feel like winter. The snow conditions were surprisingly good given the all-day rain on Saturday. Coverage on its 26 open slopes was outstanding, and with temperatures dropping during the day, snow-making crews were gearing up to resurface and expand terrain. Not surprisingly, turnout was light except for the roughly 200 kids that were running gates in the race training programs.

Think race training, and happy skiing and riding! 

Al Neubert’s weekly ski column appears Thursdays in the Times Herald-Record and at Recordonline.com/sports.