Tales of a Californian on the Slopes

Of the four seasons we experience at Dartmouth, winter term is undeniably the grimmest – temperatures drop to scary subzero figures, half the student body flees off campus to warmer locations, and it’s nearly impossible to brave the outdoors without putting on at least three extra layers. Last year, rather than taking complete refuge indoors, I decided to embrace the weather by signing up for a particularly exciting sounding winter PE class – “Downhill Ski – Beginner.”

As a freshman from sunny southern California, I had never lived in freezing temperatures, let alone attempted to get onto an actual chairlift. My first day of class (which, due to my questionable judgment during course election was on a Saturday morning), I grabbed my skis, poles, boots and helmet, made the long trek from the River cluster to the Hop, and got on the first bus to the Skiway. I had signed up with one of my best friends (also from California) and the two of us had a combined two days total of ski experience. Nevertheless, we were both excited to hit the slopes, and felt confident that we’d be experts by the end of week two. (Spoiler alert: neither of us ending up actually receiving PE credit for the class.)

As it turned out, “hitting the slopes” meant awkwardly maneuvering our way onto the J-bar in order to attempt the bunny slope. Surprisingly, I managed to make it down without wiping out. The main issue, I realized, was mastering the back-and-forth zigzag motion necessary to get down the slope without gathering unreasonable speed. I was pretty good at “pizza-ing” down the hill, but in the world of real-life downhill skiing, that was clearly only going to get me so far. At the end of the first class, I hobbled over to the lodge, grabbed some hot chocolate, and strategized for week two. Certainly, with enough practice and effort, the actual chairlift wouldn’t be in far sight.

Unfortunately, reality soon hit. Due to, well, complete laziness on my part, my subsequent attendance of the class proved to be fairly dismal. I made it to a total of four of the seven classes required to earn a PE credit. The times I did go to class, my performance on the J-bar was evidently still below par and despite my best efforts, I was never cleared to go on the chairlift. Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to make it down a hill without resorting to pizza-ing, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be that year.

In all seriousness, if you are considering signing up for a winter PE class, I’d say go for it. Freezing temperatures aside, the New Hampshire snow is absolutely gorgeous, and there’s no better time than now to try something new. As for me, I think I’ll stick to Zumba for the rest of my PE classes. Stopping, dropping, and pausing is more of my area of expertise.

Hammer ’12 skis in “Wyoming Triumph”


For Max Ham­mer ’12, there is noth­ing bet­ter than a good day of ski­ing. It has been a major part of his life since he could walk, and will be until it is no longer phys­i­cally fea­si­ble, he said. Ham­mer re­cently shared a part of his ski­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with the Dart­mouth com­mu­nity at a movie screen­ing in Dart­mouth Hall. Ham­mer was one of a hand­ful of freestyle skiers to star in “Wyoming Tri­umph,” a movie about ski­ing in Wyoming, where Ham­mer grew up.

KGB Pro­duc­tions made the movie in part­ner­ship with Trevor Hiatt, who had the idea for the film and or­ga­nized the group of skiers, in­clud­ing Ham­mer.

“It was a new ap­proach to some­thing I al­ready loved doing and I just got re­ally ab­sorbed in it,” Ham­mer said.

Un­like most ski movies, which fea­ture fast clips of ex­treme ski­ing, they wanted to cre­ate a more nar­ra­tive film about ski­ing in Wyoming. Every­one in­volved in the film had day jobs in ad­di­tion to their life as a skier, and they wanted to put to­gether a work not about pro­fes­sional ski­ing, but about reg­u­lar Wyomin­gites doing what they love.

Over half of Wyoming’s land is pub­lic and the group cap­i­tal­ized on these vast stretches of wild for un­touched snow and never-be­fore-filmed moun­tain areas.

On foot, ski and snow­mo­bile, they hiked into na­tional parks and wilder­ness areas through­out the state, some­times for days, be­fore reach­ing their ski des­ti­na­tion. Ham­mer de­scribed the un­par­al­leled feel­ing of ski­ing straight down an un­charted moun­tain. From the top he could not see the steep slope and rocky cliffs below, but had to guess where he was headed based on his mem­ory of the moun­tain from the bot­tom, he said. Ham­mer re­calls mis­cal­cu­lat­ing on his first run and get­ting lucky when he sped down the moun­tain and man­aged to avoid any dan­ger­ous sur­prises.

The film was shot over the win­ters of 2010 and 2011. Ham­mer re­mem­bers that dur­ing the first win­ter Wyoming had an un­usual short­age of snow­fall. Then one week in Feb­ru­ary the snow fi­nally came in full force, drop­ping a layer of fresh pow­der over ex­posed rock. Ham­mer ru­ined four pairs of skis over the next few weeks, but it was worth it – “ski­ing pow­der is ar­guably the best feel­ing in the world.”

Dozens of stu­dent came out for the screen­ing, which took place be­fore Thanks­giv­ing break, and cheered for Ham­mer as he glided down moun­tains on screen. Ham­mer is not sure where his fu­ture in ski­ing is headed, but said it will re­main a cen­tral part of his life.


Kickin’ and Glidin’: Victory at Last

Sweet vic­tory at last!

With dom­i­nant per­for­mances by the men and women’s Nordic teams and the sea­son’s first win for the women’s alpine squad, we brought home the gold this past week­end at Mid­dle­bury Car­ni­val. It took five tries, but fi­nally un­seat­ing UVM is a huge re­lief.

Fri­day felt pos­i­tively balmy, with tem­per­a­tures in the upper 40s and a light driz­zle. Try­ing to glide down­hill felt like ski­ing over up­turned vac­u­ums, but that didn’t keep us from rac­ing well. Eric Packer ’12 and Erika Flow­ers ’12 both went into the week­end ranked right near the top, but with­out in­di­vid­ual vic­to­ries. That all changed on Fri­day, as Packer and Flow­ers each took top hon­ors to lead the men and women to team vic­to­ries. Five of the top eight women had ‘DAR’ next to their names on the re­sults sheet, lead­ing to a rock-solid C-Stat of 42. Our Dart­mouth men weren’t too much worse, at 49.

We re­turned to the venue on Sat­ur­day to con­test a sprint relay. EISA’s ver­sion of the sprint relay is sim­i­lar to the in­ter­na­tion­ally-rec­og­nized “team sprint,” one of the events at World Champs — see below. In a team sprint, two team­mates al­ter­nate ski­ing laps of a sprint course, com­plet­ing a total of three each. To keep the num­ber of relay teams down, EISA has mod­i­fied the team sprint to in­volve teams of three in­stead of two.

Mid­dle­bury’s sprint course, blus­tery winds aside, was as straight­for­ward as they come. Groomed onto a farm field ad­ja­cent to their usual ski­ing area, it con­sisted of two long, straight down­hills and two long, straight ups. The en­tire thing was vis­i­ble from the sta­dium, to the de­light of race spec­ta­tors.

After rel­a­tively pre­dictable (dare I say bor­ing?) but fast ski­ing, the Dart­mouth men’s A team (Packer, Nils Koons ’11, Sam Tar­ling ’13) walked away with the vic­tory. The women’s A team (Flow­ers, Rosie Bren­nan ’11, Stephanie Crocker ’12) notched sec­ond place be­hind a surg­ing UNH.

As for the men’s B team, we had a rip-roarin’ race. We chose Scott Lacy ’13 to “scram­ble,” or ski the first leg, be­cause … well … we don’t re­ally know why. But we did. Not renowned for his speed off the line, our squad was sit­ting darn near the back of the pack by the end of Scott’s first leg.

I went sec­ond and started pick­ing peo­ple off ahead of me. Erik Fager­strom ’13 skied our third leg, and con­tin­ued ski­ing well. As we com­pleted our three laps each, our fit­ness shined: as other teams lagged be­cause of the lack of re­cov­ery time be­tween legs, the three of us only got stronger, fight­ing our way back to fourth place! Which be­came third when Mid­dle­bury was dis­qual­i­fied. So just like the 3×6 kilo­me­ter relay at Colby Car­ni­val, the exact same Dart­mouth relay teams again took first and third.

Bol­stered by a win and a run­ner-up fin­ish for the women’s alpine team — led by Annie Ren­dall ’13, who got her first-ever car­ni­val win — Dart­mouth came out on top after all races fin­ished. The vic­tory feels es­pe­cially good as we go into Bates Car­ni­val, which serves this year as East­ern Cham­pi­onships. Swip­ing the cham­pi­onship title out from under UVM’s nose would pro­vide a great cap to an ex­cit­ing Car­ni­val sea­son, but we’ll cer­tainly have our work cut out for us: UVM’s top two Nordic men will pre­sum­ably re­cover from their cur­rent ill­ness, and our very own Nils Koons took off this morn­ing to com­pete for New Zealand at World Cham­pi­onships in Oslo, Nor­way.

While we’re all bummed that Nils won’t be there at Bates, no­body be­grudges him the chance to ski in Oslo. World Champs this year re­turn to the soul of the Nordic ski­ing world, a coun­try where ski­ing is as pop­u­lar as base­ball in Amer­ica, and where 300,000 rabid fans will come out to cheer their coun­try’s he­roes.

Nils isn’t the only 2011 World Champs skier with Dart­mouth roots. Ben Koons ’08, Nils’ older brother, is the other mem­ber of New Zealand’s World Champs squad. And Ida Sar­gent ’11, who de­cided to forego classes this win­ter and ski full-time with the U.S. Ski Team, will rep­re­sent Uncle Sam. Those of us at home will ea­gerly down­load il­le­gal videos of the races to see the ac­tion (Nordic ski­ing doesn’t ex­actly gar­ner prime-time cov­er­age in the U.S.). Thank you, Eu­rosport.

Kickin’ and Glidin’: Carnival Culture

Schools on the Eastern skiing circuit have varying amounts of pride in their respective Carnivals: Middlebury gets a few students out to watch its races, for example, but not many people made the drive from Saint Lawrence University to Lake Placid, N.Y., for the Saint Lawrence Carnival. Certainly nobody has a campus celebration that stands up to Dartmouth Carnival, what with the ice sculpture, Polar Bear Plunge and weekend festivities.

So when the Dartmouth Carnival ski races roll around, Dartmouth skiers want to win. It’s that simple. We have a deep-seated pride in our school, our skiing and our Carnival, and that pride translated directly into stellar results this past weekend.

Racing began with five- and ten-kilometer individual skate races for the women and men, respectively. Friday was sunny and frigidly cold, and the Oak Hill trails glistened with fresh corduroy grooming. Those of us not skiing in the Carnival itself mobilized early to mark the course, perform course control (i.e. make sure nobody cheated or got lost) and most importantly, to cheer. By the time the races got underway, temperatures were climbing and the sun filled a cloudless blue sky. Ah, paradise! The men raced first, turning in the sort of solid race we’ve now come to expect. Sam Tarling ’13, racing in his first-ever Carnival at home (last year’s Carnival course was relocated to Stowe, Vt., because of the lack of snow in Hanover) cruised to an 11-second victory over teammate Eric Packer ’12, who I’ve christened the “champ of the chumps” because of his five podiums this year without a victory. Top rival UVM took spots three through five, but Nils Koons ’11 got sixth, giving Dartmouth the victory.

The women followed with a similarly admirable performance, taking second (Erika Flowers ’12), third (Rosie Brennan ’11) and two other spots in the top ten. They too beat UVM – always the goal.

We retired back to the comfort of campus and our own homes, giving us a welcome advantage over the others who had to hit the hotels.

But Saturday was the Big Day. Before I talk about the races, let me explain something about the 10K course at Oak Hill: it is hard. No two ways about it. Whereas most Nordic trails rely on constant up and down to provide the aggregate climbing required for a race, the Oak Hill 10K begins with 3.5 kilometers of sustained climbing that deposits you at a dizzying height above the stadium below. Of course, the rest of the loop is tough too, finishing with sharp serpentine turns that erase that towering vertical in under a kilometer of skiing distance.

I know for a fact that it intimidates a lot of non-Dartmouth skiers. The tough guys look forward to it — or at least they say they do — but skiing it every day makes it seem more manageable for us.

The races on Saturday were 20K for the men (two loops of the 10K) and 15K for the women. The anticipation for the races was palpable, as students, locals and other skiing enthusiasts came out in droves to watch the action.

The women went first, again placing four in the top ten. Annie Hart ’14 earned her first-ever Carnival podium, landing in third behind Brennan. Even after 52 minutes of hard skiing, Annie could be heard screaming with joy as she and teammates celebrated their dominant performance near the finish line. They beat UVM again, this time by 13 points.

The men lined up next, and by this time a few hundred spectators surrounded the stadium. A lead pack formed pretty quickly, including all six Dartmouth men (I almost peed my pants when I saw that), three from UVM, and one guy each from Middlebury and Williams. Those guys stayed together for about 15 kilometers, climbing from the stadium to the top twice.

Out in the woods and invisible to the stadium, the action started happening. David Sinclair ’14, sporting the Dartmouth freshman skiers’ green mohawk, made a bold move and briefly took the lead. But the pack reeled him back in and Tarling, Packer and UVM’s Franz Bernstein ended up breaking off the front. That trio descended together into the stadium and the crowd picked up its roar as they circled around a big horseshoe, about 300 meters of double-poling.

Leaping into the air to get more and more leverage on their poles, Packer and Tarling pulled ahead of Bernstein, each lunging at the finish. After a judges’ consultation, Tarling was declared the winner (again) and Packer second by a hair (again). All six Dartmouth guys ended up in the top 10, resulting in an otherworldly C-Stat of 32 (see last week’s post for an explanation) that included a season-best eighth for Steve Mangan ’14.

Much festivity followed, with Dartmouth sweaters and wool knickers appearing out of backpacks. We all went home feeling like kings and queens.

Kickin’ and Glidin’: Trapps

kickin' and glidin'

“A lit­tle of Aus­tria in Ver­mont” reads the sign by the road up to the Trapp Fam­ily Lodge in Stowe, Vt. I’m not sure that the Green Moun­tains stand up to the Alps, but I think Trapps is the clos­est we come. The lodge sits up high, over­look­ing stun­ning val­leys on both sides, and the ski trails wind for kilo­me­ters through maple forests. In short, it’s a skier’s heaven.

Every year we look for­ward to ski­ing the Uni­ver­sity of Ver­mont Car­ni­val at Trapps. It’s one of the three car­ni­vals that are held at the same place every year (the other three ro­tate through dif­fer­ent schools), so its fa­mil­iar­ity and pre­dictabil­ity are a re­lief.

As I wrote last week, Trapps is the site of the up­com­ing 2011 NCAA Cham­pi­onships, so last week­end was a stel­lar op­por­tu­nity to prac­tice the course and get some rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. For the top guys on our team who will race at those cham­pi­onships, Fri­day’s clas­sic race was es­pe­cially im­por­tant.

Fri­day was a 20K clas­sic mass start, one of the best (and tough­est) races on the col­lege cir­cuit. Mass start races are truly a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal than in­di­vid­ual starts — they re­ward fi­nesse while ski­ing in a crowd and de­mand a dif­fer­ent sort of men­tal strength than in­di­vid­ual starts. The col­lege field this week was about 70 strong, which meant 70 starters screamed down­hill in close prox­im­ity after the gun went off.

By the 5K mark, Nils Koons ’11, Eric Packer ’12 and Sam Tar­ling ’13 were in the lead­ing pack that had bro­ken off the front. I was one of those who got dropped, nat­u­rally, but it turned out that Nils, Eric and Sam du­eled UVM’s Franz Bern­stein for the re­main­ing 15K. Franz took the win, but Packer gave him a run for his money, only falling to sec­ond place in the last few me­ters. Nils and Sam fin­ished next. By all ac­counts, 2-3-4 is a suc­cess­ful day and Coach Ruff was un­der­stand­ably pleased. Sat­ur­day brought an­other close vic­tory for the men’s team, this time in a 10K skate race.

But re­cently I’ve felt that say­ing “we won” doesn’t do the team jus­tice. At this point, I’d like to in­tro­duce a new race sta­tis­tic: what I’m call­ing the C-Stat, short for Con­cen­tra­tion Sta­tis­tic. In my tenure here, Dart­mouth has prided it­self on ex­cep­tional — even ridicu­lous — depth, rou­tinely plac­ing all six of its Car­ni­val skiers in front of other schools’ first fin­ish­ers. But this depth is un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated, be­cause only three fin­ish­ers are counted to­ward each team’s score.

Hence the C-Stat. Cal­cu­lated as the sum of all skiers’ final po­si­tions (min­i­mum value of 21), it re­flects the team’s over­all per­for­mance in any given Car­ni­val race. Lower C-Stat is bet­ter. Sat­ur­day we had a great C-Stat of 39. UVM, next-best, had 59. (On Fri­day, UVM beat us with C-Stats of 52-59).

Want more ev­i­dence of Dart­mouth’s strength? Seven dif­fer­ent skiers have scored in the top 10, and five guys have scored for the team, or been one of our top three fin­ish­ers.

So this week­end fi­nally brings us to the Dart­mouth Car­ni­val! Dart­mouth in par­tic­u­lar takes pride in our own Car­ni­val, be­cause it is so much more than just a ski race — it’s tra­di­tion. Dart­mouth Car­ni­val fea­tures the same two races as UVM and we’ve spent all week get­ting pumped up. Home crowds make an enor­mous dif­fer­ence in ski races, so come out and watch on Fri­day and Sat­ur­day!

Cold Toes: On the Battlefield

A day of ski rac­ing is sim­i­lar to a day on a bat­tle­field. We wake up at 6 a.m. and as­sem­ble our troops (the team), our gear (the equip­ment), our com­mand­ing of­fi­cer (the coach) and go out ready to fight.

First, we need to make sure we have pro­tec­tive equip­ment for the bru­tal­i­ties we suf­fer out on the slope. In slalom, we need shin guards, pole guards, a mouth guard and a metal bar to pro­tect our face. In giant slalom, we need extra padding — called a “stealth” — on our arms and plas­tic guards on our fore­arms. All of this is cru­cial be­cause hit­ting 30 mm*** thick plas­tic poles at 50 miles per hour is the equiv­a­lent of run­ning at full speed into a wall and then con­tin­u­ing to run like noth­ing hap­pened. Think of your older sib­ling beat­ing you up when you were younger. It’s like that but one hun­dred times worse. So with­out these very nec­es­sary items, it would be like going to war with­out any armor.

The other im­por­tant items on our check­list are our skis. Just as war isn’t fought with a set of but­ter knives, ski races aren’t won with your grandma’s skis. When we brave the ice, we need heavy-duty weapons. That’s why we spend hours prepar­ing our skis for our races. We need them to be ra­zor-sharp with the fastest wax on the base.

Once we have our weapons and armor as­sem­bled, we head out for war — our race. Some­times we are lucky enough to only have to travel a few min­utes to our venues, but other times it takes a cou­ple of hours. In any case, we can use this time to rest up for the big day ahead.

We ar­rive at the moun­tain and un­load our­selves into “home base” — the lodge. We get all our stuff on and go out to in­spect the course. Would you want to be fight­ing your enemy on ter­rain you didn’t know about? Didn’t think so. That’s why we need to know ex­actly where we are going on the course. After the in­spec­tion, we take a few warm up runs, get­ting amped up for the first race run. (For those of you who don’t know, giant slalom and slalom races are two-run races.) Then the wait­ing com­mences. Ski rac­ing is all about the hurry-up-and-wait men­tal­ity.

After wait­ing around anx­iously in the lodge for the course to be ready, we take our first run, storm­ing our en­e­mies at full speed. The girls cheer for the boys when they go and visa-versa. For the sec­ond run, the top 30 rac­ers from the first run must start in re­verse order while the rest of the field starts in the same order they fin­ished. So the win­ner must go 30th, sec­ond place 29th, etc. This is where ski races can get in­ter­est­ing. This is also why you’ve got to be men­tally tough — you’ve got to grit your teeth down a rugged course and fight through it. Some­times it won’t be pretty and some­times you might suf­fer a few minor in­juries. But at the end of the day, one thing mat­ters in ski rac­ing: the clock. The time it takes you to get from the top of the course to the bot­tom. Not how pretty you looked. Not if you crushed a cer­tain sec­tion.

Since I just went through a se­ries of in­ter­views for cor­po­rate re­cruit­ing and it is fresh in my mind, I can tell you one thing that ski rac­ing gave me to pre­pare for the process. It has taught me to go to war, con­fi­dent with your weapons and pro­tec­tion, and to grit your teeth and fight through the rough times.