Ski racing programs are easily accessible to your kids if you live in a ski town. But, you may have to drive every weekend to get them time on the snow if you don't.

Big decisions have to be made for some families on whether to move theal whole gang to a ski town, so their kids have every opportunity to be a future member of the U.S. Ski Team.

Deb Armstrong took home a gold medal from the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984. She was an inner-city kid, living in Seattle, cruising an hour to Alpental at Snoqualmie every weekend. She said it was, "back and forth every Saturday and Sunday, until I got to be probably 14. Then I started skiing three days a week. I went up late one afternoon after school and skied at night. I made more of a commitment as I got older."

Armstrong says that before a family makes a huge lifestyle change, figure out the motivations of the child. "At the absolute most basic level, if we're going to make such a big decision, we have to get to the heart of what this kid wants." She says it is hard these days to make sure kids are being allowed to think for themselves, "and not be stuffed full of all of these messages of the parents' motivations and goals."

NASTAR racing can sometimes be a good barometer of how well a child is skiing. One Denver family's son consistently got gold medals on the NASTAR course. They decided to relocate their family to Steamboat each winter, so their kids could ski race. Their oldest went on to receive an offer of a college scholarship for skiing.

Armstrong adds, however, that NASTAR racing is different from the highly competitive FIS and USSA racing circuit.

The NASTAR National Championships have been held in Steamboat Springs for the past two years, and will be back again in the spring. Skiers from across the country come to Colorado to compete in the championships. Armstrong says that last spring, only one of those visiting families paid a visit to the local Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC) to inquire of the Alpine racing programs and whether that step up to racing would be a fit for their family.

Armstrong says the difference is in the commitment. "A club like SSWSC can still be fun and recreational but it's not NASTAR. The skiing and the courses are more challenging. It takes conditioning. Dryland comes into play. It doesn't have to be all consuming, but it is more of a culture and a lifetime than NASTAR is. It's different."

Armstrong adds, "Thank goodness for NASTAR because it is a great feeder program and great exposure for younger kids. It's an important crucial element, but it is not the end game. If you want to go on in your career, you have to have exposure to USSA racing."

Armstrong now heads up the Alpine Competitive Program with the SSWSC. She says to grow a ski racer, you have to instill a love for the sport, and a love for physical activity. "As you start to become more committed, you look at other important life skills, such as organization, focus of attention and promptness. Things like this are basic life skills which you may not think are important, but if you want to maximize the potential of your little athletic child, then that's part of the equation."

She says that once you have the basics, you have to have the exposure, which is where the ski towns come in. You don't have to live in a ski town, but you have to have access to the mountains on a frequent, weekly basis. "If you live in Florida, you're not going to have a ski racer."

Once the kids get older (ages 13 or 14) and the basics are in place, you need to start making other decisions that are ski specific. Then, look at maximizing training opportunities, such as facilities, coaches, and organizations.

Armstrong spent more and more time on the snow, and went on to be a world champion. "The fact that it worked for me being an inner city Seattle kid and weekend skier is a very different situation from Phil and Steve Mahre who grew up at White Pass, Wash., where their father ran the mountain. Both avenues work. It has to be the environment that works for the family and the kid."