YourSports: UMD skiers shake off the cold, place at nationals
In early January, Jason Grimm used a pot of boiling water to entertain the Minnesota Duluth Alpine club ski team members while they were stuck inside during winter break training camp at Lutsen Mountains ski resort.
When Grimm tossed the boiling water outside into the frigid air, the ice crystallized instantly.
“We were all like, ‘See! It actually works!’” said Grimm, one of the squad’s coaches.
The wind chills approaching 50 below zero forced the ski slopes to be closed for two of the four days the team was in Lutsen to train for its six two-day meets this season.
“Comparing this season to last, we had half the training due to cold weather both during the season and at our team training camp at Lutsen,” said sophomore Mara Williams. “This added an extra challenge to our team’s success, but I was really impressed how well we performed every weekend.”
Spirit Mountain, the team’s primary practice facility, was closed due to severe cold seven days this season and was forced to close early due to high winds another six times, according to the resort’s executive director Renee Mattson, who described the season as “unprecedented.” She said that in an average season Spirit Mountain might be forced to close twice.
Despite the lack of practice, the men’s team qualified for the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association national championships March 9-15 in Lake Placid, N.Y., and the women’s squad just missed qualifying for the event at the USCSA Midwest conference regional Feb. 15 at Marquette Mountain, Mich. UMD has sent either its men’s or women’s team to nationals for 10 consecutive years.
The men finished 15th as a team in Lake Placid, coming in 13th in the slalom and 12th in the giant slalom with freshman Michael Murray leading the way in both events. Murray finished 11th in slalom and 34th in the giant slalom.
“The course at Lake Placid was one of the steepest and longest courses I’ve raced on,” said junior Tyler Regenscheid. “The bulletproof ice made you bring your A game in practice and in the race.”
The Lake Placid course was a bit more grueling for the UMD skiers, at about twice the length of most of the hills that the Bulldogs normally practice or ski on.
“We don’t have the mountains like they do out East or West,” Grimm said. “The slalom courses were really technically difficult, even by previous national race standards. One mistake could really cost you, as some of our racers found out.”
The women’s team finished fourth overall at regional meet, taking third in the slalom and fourth in the giant slalom, a little more than a second behind third-place Wisconsin-Madison. Freshman Signe Larson was the top slalom finisher for the Bulldogs in ninth place, and Ali Boettcher led the way in giant slalom in 10th.
“They did really well for the level that they are at, but going forward, I know we can see a vast improvement out of their times and standings. The freshmen did really well for their level and will continue to master giant slalom, which will help propel their team finishes and overall standings,” Grimm said of the young squad.
As a club team, the Bulldogs welcome all skiers, regardless of experience or skill level. The result is a competitive but friendly atmosphere at practice.
“If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it,” said coach Lucas Dean. “Our goal is to make this a program people want to stick around for.”
“Everyone is so different, but our common ground of skiing brings us together,” Williams said. “We enjoy the sport, but the team camaraderie is what keeps everyone coming back. Competing at this level is something you can only do for so long in a young lifetime, so take advantage of the opportunity while you can.”