Eastern Mass Bill Koch (EMBK) is a Boston-area club dedicated to introducing kids to the joys of cross-country skiing and racing. We train at the DCR’s Leo J. Martin Ski Track from November until the last snow melts, 2-3 days per week depending on the skier’s experience. Beginners are welcome.
What is The Bill Koch Youth Ski League?
The Bill Koch Youth Ski League is the largest membership group in cross-country skiing in the United States. Founded by Olympic Silver Medalist Bill Koch, the League’s mission is to introduce young people to cross-country skiing. The League has 41 local clubs with more than 1,000 child members in New England.
Our club, the Eastern Massachusetts Bill Koch (EMBK) club includes children from Massachusetts who live east of Worcester. With over two hundred youth skiers, we are the largest Bill Koch club. More than a dozen of our coaches carry the New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA)’s Level 1 certification – more than any other youth club in New England. Our home location, the DCR’s Leo J. Martin Ski Track in Weston, MA, makes snow, so we have one of the longest seasons of the New England Bill Koch clubs.
We are open to all children, aged 7 – 13, and unlike some youth sports programs, we have no tryouts and no cuts.
What are EMBK’s goals and philosophy?
Our goal is simple: To introduce kids to the joys of cross-country skiing and of skiing fast! High-performance Nordic skiing on groomed tracks is exciting and quite different from the widely practiced “walking on skis” style of cross-country skiing.
Skiing fast means skiing well. Proper technique is the foundation. The core of our program is instruction in modern groomed-track Nordic skiing techniques, using age-appropriate methods.
What are the ‘Joys of Cross-Country Skiing’?
Nordic skiing attracts a wide variety of enthusiasts. Some come for a chance to work on a life-long skill. Others come for the spectrum of athleticism from gentle recreation to the ‘high’ that accompanies endurance sports. Some find cross-country skiing a more economical pastime than Alpine skiing or snowboarding with less risk of serious injury. Some come for cultural reasons to enjoy a sport with ancient origins which their grandparents loved. Some revel in the chance to wear Lycra tights. But most cross-country skiers simply enjoy being outside on a wintry day and connecting with nature in a low-impact way. And many come back year after year for the wonderful friends they’ve discovered in the Nordic skiing community.
Is this a ski racing program?
For many of EMBK skiers, skiing fast means participating in a few races. Some skiers choose not to compete; we firmly believe this decision rests with the skier. Our experience is that some skiers enjoy skiing but not racing when they are younger, then develop a desire to race as they mature. Particularly at the youngest ages, racing can place too much emphasis on working hard and not enough on skiing well. Our perspective is longer term: We provide strong technical skills and instruction to our skiers when young and best able to learn so that they can race if they choose. Most of our skiers go on to race with their high school teams, and some compete at the regional and national level with our junior club partner, Cambridge Sports Union (CSU).
What experience do our coaches have?
The core of our program is providing quality coaching and technical instruction to our young skiers. Our coaches are committed parent volunteers. Many have been through the NENSA Bill Koch coach training program. Several are also accomplished former college and masters racers. Early in the season, we hold two on-snow coaching clinics (one classic, one skate) to coordinate coaching methods, drills, and objectives, as well as to discuss how to tailor our approach in an age-appropriate way.
What if you, as a parent, want to learn to ski, too?
Cross-country skiing is a great lifelong sport and even more fun when the whole family participates. We encourage parents to ski. The Leo J. Martin Ski Track offers various packages of lessons, some of which occur at the same time as our Saturday morning practice.
What is the expected commitment?
The level of commitment we ask from our skiers is the same as you find on a child’s soccer, baseball, or swim team: Show up to practice on time, ready to have fun and to learn. Our practices, especially the Saturday morning ones, focus on technique development. They are progressive, building on ideas, drills, and techniques introduced in previous practices (including the dry-land practices). For this reason, skiers should plan to attend all the Saturday practices. Although not always possible, attending the evening practices too allows the skiers to make progress and to develop skills over the season.
We also hope parents will help with the operation of the club, not necessarily in their child’s first year but over the course of their child’s experience. EMBK is run entirely by parent volunteers and we welcome your help in small and large ways! Please see the Volunteer page for more information
What if your child is a beginner?
It doesn’t matter! We welcome children who have little, or even no, experience with cross-country skiing. We have had many skiers whose first day on skis was their first day at one of our practices! If a child is motivated and athletic, he or she can learn quickly to ski fast and to have fun on skis. Tennis is good analogy: At first, it takes a lot of time to learn to get the ball over the net, but after a few weeks, if you practice, it becomes easier and more natural. Remember that kids learn a lot faster than adults!
Should you give your child lessons first?
No. We prefer that new skiers do not have lessons outside the club first – lessons for kids can have variable content and often fail to emphasize the technical fundamentals we consider essential. At the same time, our approach is different from ordinary lessons – more oriented towards developing performance skiing technique. One way to think about other instruction and our program is the difference between regular swimming lessons and the technical instruction a child would get on a swim team.
What age should a child be to participate?
Our program accepts skiers aged 7 through eighth grade (including kids who are still 14 as of December 31 of the current winter). If your skier opts to race, the Bill Koch League classifies skiers by grade in the following categories:
- Grades 1 and 2
- Grades 3 and 4
- Grades 5 and 6
- Grades 7 and 8
For high-school aged skiers, the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) runs a junior XC racing program. This program is a natural extension of EMBK, and many of our graduates enter this program. They also hold team practices at the DCR’s Leo J. Martin Ski Track.
How do I register?
Go to our Sign Up page for details!
What can you do on your own to become a better skier?
Watch TV: Seriously! The core of our instructional program is a simplified version of the US Ski Team progression system and technical framework, as laid out in the 2002 instructional video, “US Ski Team Skating and Classic Technique and Progressions – 2002” (Instructional Series VI019). We urge you to get this video. You can mimic the stars of the US ski team in the privacy of your home and then watch race footage of the world’s best skiers. You can order the video from the National Nordic Foundation. (By the way, they have a cool calendar too.) How about 10 minutes of TV a night?
Go skiing: The more practice, the better. Have you tried going out in the woods at night with a headlamp? Or playing tag on skis on a frozen lake? There are many fun ways to develop balance and general ski sense. And, of course, go skiing with your family.
Our club is a parent-run, all-volunteer organization. Please see our volunteer page. Volunteers do not need to be skiers!