U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s new CEO hopes to extend run of success
Park City • Sage Kotsenburg joked, as he typically does, his spiffy ESPY Award seated to right. Freeskier David Wise leapt out of his chair as he described his gold-medal run. Alpine megastar Ted Ligety went into the intricacies of how he gained speed toward his second Olympic gold medal.
In the back, behind the 200-plus partners and trustees of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), sat a man tasked with implementing his style of change within an organization that produced 17 medalists in the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in February. New CEO Tiger Shaw, a former Olympian alpine skier, sat in the dark, away from the spotlights with a notepad on his lap and pen in his hand as presentations were made. Thursday morning showcased the annual USSA Partner Summit in Park City, as various partners and sponsors alike packed inside the training facility as executives recapped Sochi, while six of the record-producing eight gold medalists from USSA were on hand to address the crowd.
About Tiger Shaw
Position » CEO of United States Ski and Snowboard Association
Hometown » Stowe, Vermont
Racing career » Two-time Olympic alpine racer in 1984 and 1988 Olympic Winter Games; won nine U.S. Championship titles; a Top 10 regular at World Cups; and had Top-15 world rankings in two downhill disciplines, NCAA slalom champion at Darmouth.
For the last 18 years, Bill Marolt paced the organization. During his time as CEO and alpine director, the USSA legend was part of 70 medals won by American skiers and snowboarders. Marolt ran the show through the end of the Sochi Games before officially retiring, paving the way for Shaw, a 52-year-old Vermont native, to guide the association into a new future.
"My tenure started 120 days ago," Shaw said. "This is my coming out party."
While the announcement that Shaw would succeed Marolt came last August — in an Olympics year, no less — Year 1 under the new boss has already begun. Processes and examinations of how the USSA can maintain its level of heightened expectation are underway. A few primary objectives Shaw has in his sights are continuing to better develop youth feeder programs around the country and foster potential stars as they come along.
"Our pipeline isn’t as strong as I wished it was," Shaw said. "We hang our hat on a bunch of superstars, who are amazing athletes. We want younger kids to emulate them, show up and be ready to take their place when they’re ready to retire."
Like any new leader taking the reins of a successful organization, Shaw has set out to establish various identities for America’s top skiers and snowboarders. The cliche that rings loud across all professional and international sports platforms applies in the Center of Excellence: "What can we do to become better?"
After intently watching Marolt and fellow executives steer the ship for the last year, Shaw said he was able to spend time polling various clubs and partners nationwide about how the USSA can further its brand. He said Thursday the plan for Year 1 is in place and under way after the association’s start of the year begins May 1.
"Now we’re looking at two, three, four, five years out — who do we want to be?" he said. "How do we get there? We need to engage the general public, we need to get more kids involved in our sports, we need to talk to industry suppliers, ski resorts and find a way to make competing more affordable."
Asked of the biggest challenge that will remain for himself and the USSA looking ahead to the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, Shaw was definitive in his response: "It’s always funding."
Having added freeskiing and freestyle disciplines in the last five seasons, the athletic budget has grown, but not enough to fully fund every athlete who has been selected to join a national team. There used to be around 130 athletes before Vancouver, but new disciplines have upped the count to about 180, Shaw said.
"We need to grow the organization financially," Shaw said, "and that’s my job."
An example of more fiscal infusions needed came in mid-April when it was announced that the USSA would cut funding for the Nordic combined program, which still remains part of the association. Shaw has identified where specific work needs to be done in every avenue of what comes with the territory of being a new CEO. But he reiterated that his No. 1 goal of this next Olympics cycle is increasing funding.
"We need our partners, our clubs, our academies and divisions and states to help us reduce cost and part of that is chasing less competition," Shaw said. "But once you’re at the elite level, we need to be able to tell somebody, ‘Yeah, it costs you a lot of money, you worked hard to get here, you’ve made it and now we’re going to carry you.’ We can only partly say that. I dream of the day we can say to anybody being named to a national team, ‘We got you,’ but we can’t do that yet."