Steamboat Springs You've spent your whole life training and competing for a shot at making it to the top level of your sport.
What does it mean?
If your name happens to be LeBron James and you play basketball, you get perks including vintage jerseys, Hummers and NBA contracts. Well, maybe not the Hummer; that was a gift from his mom. Right.
The truth is, most top-level high school recruits in such lucrative sports as basketball and football are rewarded with a college scholarship at the very least, and possibly money and gifts.
The athletes go to college for the chance to work with top coaches and learn the skills they need to move on to the next level. The school foots the bill. That's the way it's supposed to work here in the good old USA.
But what if your sport is skiing or snowboarding?
It's at the club level where Olympic dreams are forged. Athletes start with local meets and move up through the ranks.
Only a handful reach the Olympics, and they do it all with very little support.
Skiers must travel long distances on a weekly basis if they want to succeed -- at most levels, those car trips happen on their parents' dime.
If they are good, they will be named to the U.S. Ski Team and have their coaching, competition and travel expenses covered.
If they're really good, they can look forward to making a living through endorsements. Free skis, hats and sunglasses are normal; the truly blessed have a corporate sponsor show up at their door and offer them a few bucks -- but nothing close to what LeBron can expect.
What U.S. skiers can expect in terms of financial support from the U.S. Ski Team was reduced last week when the organization announced it needs to cut $2 million from its budget before next season.
The salary cap the U.S. Ski Team works under isn't the arbitrary number of most major sports franchises, it is one driven by reality.
And the reality is, recent world events and a slumping economy forced President Bill Marolt to make some tough cuts.
Sadly, most of the cuts will impact development teams, meaning many of tomorrow's stars will have to be self-funded. If athletes on the cusp want to compete at the international level, they will have to foot the plane tickets and hotel bills themselves.
It's a harsh way to treat a skier who could be vying for a gold medal someday -- but this is the real world of sports.
It's not like the fantasy world of LeBron. The parents of skiing stars could never afford to buy Hummers; they are too busy paying for coaching, international travel and competition.
In some cases, mom and dad will be the only support a skier gets, yet just three years from now, that development athlete could be the hero of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games.
Then, maybe, for a few weeks in February these young athletes will be treated like superstars -- at least until the Games end.