The big question for the United States ski team in this post-Olympic winter is the same as always: Will the Americans ever start catching up to the Europeans who have dominated the sport for so long?
"We're working on it, but obviously we have a long way to go," said head men's coach Konrad Rickenbach as his racers put in two weeks of rugged training here before heading for Val d'Isere, France, to begin the World Cup season next week.
"We have a lot of young kids this year, so it will be slow progress," Rickenbach said in assessing the team's 1980-81 chances. "Our goal is to improve our rankings each year."
Even by European standards, the United States does have one superstar in Phil Mahre, who won a silver medal in the Olympic slalom at Lake Placid and has been either second or third in the World Cup standings for the last three years. Steve Mahre, though not able to match his twin brother's record, is a solid World Cup competitor in his own right -- as shown by his 10th and 12th place overall finishes the last two years. But after this duo, the cast consists mainly of veterans who have only occasionally cracked the top ranks or youngsters who are still unknown quantities.
No wonder the new overall head of the proram, Alpine Director Bill Marolt, prefers to talk in terms of more than one year.
"Our immediate goals will be set at a high level as we start a new four-year program leading to the 1984 Olympics," Marolt has said. "Because we are looking to the future, our development program will continue to expand. . . .Our youth is our future, and we must do our best to find and to work with the most talented skiers in the country."
Certainly the makeup of this year's national team reflects the emphasis on youth, with four "rookies" and two more second- year men among the 12 members.