The sport you didn’t know existed and probably never saw compete at Cornell may be actually be its best. This past March, the Cornell alpine and nordic ski teams, former varsity squads that now have club status, competed at the USCSA national championships held at Sugarloaf, Maine. Though competition at the mountain included varsity teams from slope-laden states such as Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, Cornell’s snow bunnies came home with the overall championship, one All-American, and four Academic All-Americans.
The ski clubs, comprised of approximately 80 men and women, beat powerful teams like Colorado, Michigan, Brown, and No. 1 Sierra Nevada for the President’s Cup, which is awarded to the school with highest combined score from all events. Freshman Brandon Collins earned second-team All-America honors after he placed 14th overall in the men’s combined alpine competition, and cross-country skier John Erikson was named to the first All-America team, while Aliza Cohen, Clover Whitman, and Colin Ruetter took home honorable-mention awards.
“Nationals was awesome,” Collins said. “We raced against Sierra Nevada, which is the best team in the nation. They are really some unbelievable skiers. And the rest of the schools were really good too. Some guys come out of there and go pro.”
Competition to reach nationals began over winter break, when the skiers returned to campus early for their annual preseason camp. Unlike leisurely vacation skiing, their training is not just a shoosh here and a swish there. Dryland exercises include distance running and hill conditioning to improve skiers’ cardiovascular shape and leg strength. Daily trips to Greek Peak and other upstate mountains also provide the team with its race experience. This year, the blanket of snow that covered much of central New York for the better part of three months gave the skiers ample opportunity to hone their edges and skills.
“We had good conditions for most of the season,” said freshman alpinist Doug Hirsch. “It helped us get out and really practice what we’d been seeing on film and hearing from our teammates and coaches.”
Throughout the season, both the alpine and nordic teams compete in the Empire Division, one of roughly 15 geographic divisions in the country. Most of teams can be found in northern and mountain regions, but teams from across the country, from southern California and Arizona to the Tetons down to Massachusetts and up to Maine, compete for the national title. Locally, teams such as Colgate, Alfred, Syracuse, Boston University, Brown, and Clarkson provide the skiers with some of the best competition in the country.
“The most competitive races, aside from nationals and regionals, were against Clarkson and Colgate,” Collins said of this year’s schedule. “We did pretty well against them. We surprised ourselves, actually.”
The process to qualify for nationals is based on individual performances at the regional championships. The top three performers in each event advance to the championship meet. To train for the main event, the skiers watch tape evaluate their techniques.
“Skiing is a sport where you know what you have to do, you know how to carve and get on edge, but it’s actually getting into it and doing it that’s tough. So it’s more a self-coaching thing,” Hirsch said. “It’s just having the balls to go out there and go your hardest to see how fast, how far you can push yourself until you go over. And you’ll probably fall, but you’ll never know how far you can go in a race until you find out in practice.”
Sometimes pushing the limit can result in painful falls, but Collins thinks the risk is worth the reward. “I’ve had two pretty bad spills. I broke my tibia, fibula, femur, and kneecap when I was a freshman in high school,” he said. “But my biggest crash ever was in a downhill up at Sugarloaf when I went into the fencing at about 80 miles an hour.”
Though the racers must stay serious while racing downhill or gliding overland, both Collins and Hirsch claim the best part of being on the team is relaxed and having fun.
“I got involved with the ski team because I skied in my local high school,” Hirsch said. “It’s really fun. Cornell’s team is non-varsity so its less intense, but it’s a great team.”
Collins, who went to high school in upstate New York to hone his ski skills, said, “I was pretty excited when I got here. My number one goal was just to have fun, relax, and ski. I did better this year than I’ve ever done in my life, and we were the best club team in the nation.”
Archived article by Everett Hullverson
Sun Assistant Sports Editor