AXCS: Club Resources
How To...XC Ski Events -- Five
-- Most large event organizers opt for mass starts simply because of ease in timing
and results. If you have a huge start area a single mass start can be an OK option
but for events of more than 300-500 people you really have to question whether or
not this will be the best option. Here are some suggestions...
- For larger events you are almost always best off if you start people in wave starts
. With the advent of so many affordable computer timing systems there is very little
hassle in doing wave starts for timers. Bib numbers can be put into different timing
categories so you don't even have to separate your bibs by waves if you don't want
to. My favorite option is to allocate a certain number of bibs (example: 1-99) for a
certain wave and once you fill it -- it's filled. The best procedure for wave starts
is to start your elite racers off first; followed by a citizen racer wave or two;
and finally some remaining waves for tourers. If you do a good job of getting people into the
proper wave you can make the gap between waves as little as 3-5 minutes with absolutely
- The biggest hassle you will ever face in starting line sanity will come servicing
people that are not quite elite but are better than most citizen skiers. Do two things.
First off, create some rock solid criteria for establishing an elite wave and who
is eligible for front line status -- and publish the criteria in entry forms and at the
registration site. Secondly, make sure with larger events you actually have what
I call a serious citizen racer wave or a whole section just behind the elite skiers
in the first wave to accommodate this group. It's a pain in the neck but if you don't plan
ahead on this one you'll pay later on.
- Seeding waves beyond the first 1-2 is really unnecessary unless we are talking about
an event of several thousand people (by way of reference, the largest XC Ski race
in the world has typically been the Vasaloppet in Sweden with up to 45,000 skiers over a single week of events -- now THAT is big!). Most skiers that aren't hardcore racers don't want to get in other folk's way so just put up signs with approximate finishing times and/or per kilometer times. Then let folks seed themselves!
- My recommendation is to always set 10-20 classic tracks for any style race from the
scramble zone all the way back thru the front line and to the end of your start area.
Having tracks in the snow makes starts infinitely more user-friendly. You'll eliminate or reduce tons of common problems such as broken equipment, mass collisions, and
- The actual start itself should be right on time, include very few instructions right
beforehand, and--most importantly--should be conducted in the simplest manner possible.
I'm convinced that countdowns should be banned from the face of the planet. You always get a few bozos that jump the gun and that starts a ripple effect that really
messes things up for everyone. Always start mass or wave races with this procedure.
- Once you've got everyone lined up and on the line with their toes--say 20 (or 30) seconds to start, the next thing you'll hear is "go". Then expect absolute silence.
- The next thing the racers should hear is "go"!
- It doesn't matter if you are exact with the silence period or not, it actually helps if it is a bit of a mystery because it will freeze the horses and keep them from fidgeting around. This method is a near-guarantee to stop line-jumpers and will dramatically improve your races.
--One of the areas that competitive racers will be most fickle about is awards. Granted, the vast majority of your participants simply don't care about winning anything but the few that do are very vocal and very selective. I have a few remedies pieced together after several years talking with competitors in a wide range of abilities and ages...
- Ribbons, medals, plaques, trophies, etc.--all mean the most to younger racers; age
group champs; and general participants. For most racers over 18 that will collect
top placings these traditional awards usually only have significant value when it
is a big-time Championships. Example: Nationals. Traditional awards can also be very expensive
so look for different options except in limited cases.
- Always give a cheap ribbon or medal to every single youth racer -- every single one
of them!!! These really don't have to be fancy but kids and parents will love them.
Hopefully you have a special youth race over a short distance and you can just hand
out the awards right when the kids cross the finish line. Very few
- It is nice idea to give out some kind of finishing award to ALL finishers in long distance
races. A nice idea...but only if your budget can afford it. This is a great touch for marathon distances, but 20-30km distances are a tough call. For sure skip this item in those middle distances if can't get the medals sponsored and you have to pass along the cost directly to the racers.
- Award either medals or plaques to age group winners in any junior category. If you
can, it is great to go 3-5 deep for ages 13-17. If you have some small product prizes
to add to the pot that is great but generally most teens don't mind getting traditional awards. Please skip awards for any ages under 16 in any event longer than 20km (same with awards for 18 and under over 30km). The last thing you want to do is encourage kids to be racing hard at distances out of their range.
- Plaques or trophies are the typical prizes for overall winners...much to the dismay of most of the people that ever win those same awards. Trust me, the $30-100
you spend on some really nice annual trophies for overall winners (even beautiful
plates or bowls) would be better off spent on some cool gift certificates or even
just delivered in cash! Racers that can win major events almost always have a pile of
trophies and such at home collecting dust but what they really need and want 99.9%
of the time is cash, nice product prizes, or gift certificates. Cash is a great way
to develop an elite following for your event and a great way to encourage media interest.
Product prizes and gift certificates can often be donated by sponsors or purchased
by the organizers at cost. If coming up with large prizes is too difficult, create
a prize packet with several nice things in each award. If you do insist on some kind of traditional award, think about investing in a perpetual award (Ex. A nice plaque that you can engrave Champions' names on) that you keep at a Club building or a sponsor's headquarters.
- Award every child 12 and Under an inexpensive ribbon or medal.
- Award big-time prizes to the top three Overall men and women.
- Award nice prizes to the remaining 4-10 place finishers Overall men/women. This encourages depth in top racing which XC skiing needs desparately.
- Award nice prizes or medals to the age-group champions in 5 year age groups. Skip
anyone finishing in the Top 10 Overall prizes--count them as a separate elite field
that is not eligible for age group awards. If you have the budget or support, you
can go 3 deep in age groups. However, don't feel obligated to deepen age group awards
just to win extra points with folks. It's always fun to win something for 2nd or
3rd in your age group but if coming up with the extra couple dozen age group awards
is going to wipe out the fund-raising profits or elevate reg fees or burden sponsors--where
is the gain???
- Award a really nice prize to the top Master 40+ men/women. Many top running races
do this and I think it is high time XC Skiing started getting in the habit also!
- Because of the growth in disabled racing, having awards for sit-ski, blind-skier,
and other classifications can be a nice touch. However, don't be surprised if the
disabled folks prefer to be fighting it out with everyone else -- ask them!
- If you have a consistent course, have a really nice prize for course records (men/women)
for Overall and Master 40+. Several top events actually create a permanent board
with engraved listings of overall winners and times over the entire history of the event which is a nice added touch.
- Team Awards can be done dozens of ways and are great ways to encourage participation
by folks that would rarely get involved on their own. Many multi-sport races have
had great success with team awards and there is no reason other events can't also.
Categories can include:
- Special Awards are fun ways to recognize certain people that don't typically get awards
or memorialize special people. You can do silly things like award ski lessons to
the Biggest Fall on the Waterfall Hill
or you can give out volunteer awards or oldest competitor awards. For these kinds
of things it is perfectly OK to get some nice trophies or plaques.
After actually running or being part of literally hundreds of events I've gotten to the point where I judge the success of my planning and organization on how little I need to do on the day of the event. If I'm racing around in a panic then my organization was not up to par. If I'm making too many last minute decisions I clearly didn't do enough planning. However, if things fall into place perfectly and the event sails through without a hitch I know that the planning and organization beforehand was right on the mark.
Finishing up is all about making sure you don't have any loose ends with returning resources; balancing the books; and making all the gazillion thank-you's necessary. The final step is sitting down and reviewing this year's event to make next year's better.
Event Day Stuff:
1.) Do whatever you can before the actual day of the event . Every single little task you can have completed before event day means a world of ease on event day. Laying out all the different materials you'll need; pre-preparing food; anything and everything you can do beforehand saves time and hassle. Another benefit to pre-event work is that you can often find plenty of volunteers available that want to help but also want to participate in the event. This is their chance! The only thing that you want to be careful about is exposing materials to the elements and to possible theft. It seems amazing sometimes what people will steal if given the chance so keep as much stuff locked up or under a careful eye as possible. Unless you are guaranteed a perfect weather patch, you want to avoid stringing banners and other vulnerable items until the morning of the event. Most event tents are surprisingly tough so the only hassle would be getting them up in bad weather--I almost caused a couple of volunteers to be extras in the movie Twister when I had them try to put up a tent in a blizzard one time!
2.) Start as early as you can on event day . Chuck Lyda of the Auburn Ski Club in California had a very good rule of having everything in place and ready to go by the time participants STARTED ARRIVING to the event site. His rationale was that it really looked unprofessional to have people running around putting up banners and fences only an hour or so before hosting an event. After seeing both sides of this coin I have to say that this rule is a good one to follow. If you are hosting a race at 9 am this can mean having your whole stadium in place by 7:30 or 8:00am. If it takes 1-2 hours to set-up....you're going to need to start EARLY! I suggest allowing 60-90 minutes MORE time than you ever think you'll need to set-up when you start hosting events. As your Club gets more experienced at hosting events the actual set-up time will drop like a rock since organizers will spend far less time explaining where and how to put things. A well-oiled stadium crew can whip up a fantastic-looking show in less than an hour IF they have all the necessary stuff and a well-detailed plan.
3.) Have some simple maps and instructions available to guide volunteers . A simple map can really help your set-up crew when organizers are busy doing something else. Just make a couple copies and hand them out to crew chiefs for an easy reference.
4.) Stay calm and upbeat . Big event days are ALWAYS a major adrenalin rush for any organizer. Afterall, you've put a ton of time and effort into this project and you want everything to go well. It can be a drag to wake up at 4:30am only to find the BIG DAY has steady rain or a major blizzard but there is nothing you can do about it! Smile and go ahead to meet the challenge.
When things get nutty, and they will from time to time, as you set-up you need to keep yourself and all your volunteers calm and upbeat. Timing systems will crash 10 minutes before start; someone will screw up and mark the wrong course; you'll run out of bibs--weird stuff can and will happen to the best organized event. When you hear about the latest major disaster , take a deep breath (or more), and quickly and calmly come fix the problem. I loved the movie Apollo 13 because it seems like some of the events I've been around. The great thing is that the characters in the movie did the right thing--they focused on the problem and not freaking out! You also want to stop yourself from quickly fixing blame. Maybe someone did screw up when they shouldn't have but reading them the riot act is not going to help and will make for a miserable day for everyone. Get through the day and if you do need to express something afterwards, make sure you've calmed down and you are offering objective, constructive feedback. I've learned the hard way that emotional outbursts solve nothing and only add to problems.
5.) The eye of the event is what I call the time between set-up and the actual show. Just like a hurricane you will have this massive frenzy of activity in set-up and then a nice calm for up to an hour before launch time. This is a great time to let your set-up volunteers go have a hot drink and some snacks--remember you want them sharp and rested when it counts--and maybe get in a little last minute training with your technical crew. This is also a good time to do a check of all the P.A. and timing systems. A common mistake organizers make with the high-tech lazer timing systems is to have the system on too early or they fail to adequately block off the lights at the start or finish. Remember how zany it is for racers before events. They are focusing purely upon their little world so anything you want to protect in your stadium--you've got to barricade that sucker off! The best solution is just to have a really well-thought out design that encourages people to go in areas that are away from any sensitive equipment or areas. If you are in charge, use the calm period to make sure everything is perfect. This will be your last chance to fix things.
6.) During the actual event the best thing in the world for smooth organization is good communication . Radios are a spendy yet somewhat indispensable tool for event organizers. If you are doing a major point-to-point event, it is not unreasonable to budget for a few rented or borrowed cellular phones. You need all your key people to be in constant touch with each other so that if anything suddenly pops up or gets forgotten you can jump right on it. If things are going perfectly, the side benefit to good communication is that you can provide somewhat of a running commentary (via your announcer) on what's happening out on the course. At one H.S. Championships I actually just put the P.A. microphone up to my radio and let a college coach out on the course give a report from well out in the woods. Since we had several dozen interested parents and others near the stadium, this was a big hit! However, the primary benefit of these expensive toys is the speed at which you can respond to needs during the event.
7.) Clean-up should be a major part of your planning process just like any other item. You'll want to get started as soon as possible but be aware of starting too early. For example, when I was in H.S. I had a teammate get lost because the host had picked up the course flags before everyone was in! With long citizen events you can have finishers still coming in hours after your awards so it can be tough to balance things. In general, I recommend starting to clean things after you get past 90% of your participants in. Leave everything associated with the course til very last. Make sure that you have designated spots for volunteers to put things. For example, if you have borrowed a bunch of fencing you'll want it put next to the parking lot so that it can easily be loaded into vehicles.
After the Event:
8.) Leave your site cleaner than you found it . I sound like a parent here but it is a great rule to follow. Particularly if you are using borrowed or leased areas, being a wonderful tenant will always pay off down the road. Always anticipate loads of trash with any kind of event and provide plenty of trash cans and/or bags. You may need to arrange for a special dumpster or maybe some Club members with trucks can go dump the bags. This sounds really gross but quite often before ski races you'll have plenty of people making pit-stops NOT in the designated restrooms. This isn't too big of a deal if the race is in a wilderness area with lots of forest, etc. around. HOWEVER, if you are in a residential area or commercial ski area--other folks probably aren't going to be too keen on having their backyard or teaching area messed-upon. The only real solution is to provide more than enough toilets than you think you need and to impress upon racers the need to be sanitary guests.
9.) Get your thank you machine rolling ASAP . You can write up a form thank you letter beforehand and just edit in a few humorous things that might have happened along the way. I like to send thank you notes to all volunteers, sponsors, and any official groups/individuals with most events. If volunteers were part of your Club usually you can just make a toast at the next pot-luck and save the postage. A great way to celebrate a big event is to have a nice informal dinner or party with your Club a week or so after the show. You can develop pictures/slides and maybe even see some video tapes. Best of all, everyone will have had a chance to relax which isn't the case at a post-event fest.
10.) Be practical about any leftover stuff. Leftover food that can keep you can always use some other time but if you have perishable foods you'll want to use it somehow. You can have a special Club thank-you dinner of some kind or you can always give it to a community food bank. Leftover T-shirts and giveaway items can be used as thank-you's for special folks/groups and/or you can use them for other Club functions. Rarely will a sponsor want a box of unused samples or other donations to be returned--particularly if they can be distributed at some other event.
11.) Make sure to get items to be returned or mailed sent as soon as possible after the event. Trust me, if you wait to send stuff you run the very real risk of forgetting and that can be a real bummer in the future. Sponsors do want their banners and other permanent promo items returned. You'll often have a rep there at the event to pick the stuff up but in case you don't, get it shipped right away. I try to absorb the cost of return shipping whenever possible just because it is a nice gesture of appreciation and it is less hassle. If you have rented anything such as tents or tables you need to arrange to have them returned--clean and in good shape--as fast as possible. Finally, if you have a system for mailing awards to folks missing the ceremony or sending results, get that stuff out of your hair ASAP.
12.) Make sure you have a couple of disk copies made with the entire entry/address list and the entire results stored away somewhere . You will need the mailing list as soon as next year starts rolling around and you never know when someone is going to be interested in seeing a copy of the results. The easiest way to handle on-line database is to arrange with your timer to produce a pdf file of the annual results. Easy to store and easy to print in exactly the format you want (including logos of all sponsors).
13.) Last but not least, celebrate your accomplishment and learn for the future! Take the time to reflect on everything that went right and not-so-right. Write down your thoughts and ideas. You'll want to take some time to relax and catch up with the rest of your life but before you do, try to give yourself or someone else some things to build from for future events.
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