I sit at a table in Hirst Lounge with seniors Marlise Combe and Bre Padasak – two accomplished ski racers and the respective president and captain of the UR Alpine Ski Team. As we wait for the “top two guys” to arrive, Combe and Padasak quickly fall into conversation about Combe’s recent boot fitting at a local ski shop.
JP Suits, senior and member of the ski team e-board, soon arrives and joins the girls’ discussion, marveling that Combe’s new boots were “only $50!” But when freshman Greg Shinaman makes his way to our table, their talk dies down as the ski team members turn their attention to sharing the particulars of their little-known club.
“We travel every weekend and compete in races in the New York area,” Combe begins. “We have five regular season races and if we do well enough, we qualify for the regional competition.”
Members of the ski team compete in both slalom and giant-slalom races, swiftly weaving their way around a number of poles known as “gates” as they race down the mountain. Combe and Suits explain that giant slalom is a variation on traditional slalom racing, just longer and with more turns – “it’s faster,” Suits said.
UR’s ski team is a member of the mid-east conference of the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association. They compete against schools like Syracuse University, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Cornell University in races mostly held in western New York.
Their season begins immediately after Winter Break and lasts until the third weekend of February. While the season may be short, it’s extremely intense as the team goes non-stop until regionals.
When I ask about a typical race day, Suits simply states “very early,” and his teammates nod in agreement. Depending on the location of the race, the ski team wakes up sometime between 5:30 and 7:30am. “We get to the mountain and have to register, then we all get out on the hill to inspect the course,” Combe describes.
They aren’t allowed to ski the course before the race, but there are no rules against visualizing. Padasak explains that skiing the course in your head can be extremely helpful when it comes to the “tricky portions” – it’s important to be prepared.
“Usually, the night before the race we have a tuning session,” Padasak continues. The ski team members wax their skis according to the consistency of the snow. “Certain waxes are faster on different snows,” Suits explains.
The day consists of two rounds of races. For the second round, the majority of the skiers race in the order they finished that morning. The 15 individuals with the fastest times go first but in reverse order. “They want the fastest person on the hill to not necessarily have the cleanest course,” Suits tells me. At the end of the second round, the top three varsity times are assessed for each team and determine the ranking they will receive.
At the end of the regional competition, the top three teams go on to the national competition. “[Last] year, our team made it,” Padasak tells me, recounting how the five-member varsity girls team got the chance to compete against colleges from across the country.
“This past weekend, I qualified for the national championship,” Combe humbly states, explaining how one individual racer is selected from each conference to go to nationals along with the tree qualifying ski teams from their area. Combe will be skiing the giant slalom at nationals in Lake Placid during spring break.
The ski team hasn’t gotten where they are today without practice. They train Tuesday – Thursday at Bristol Mountain with 10-15 of their members attending each practice. “Bristol supplies us with coaches” Suits tells me. “The coaches set up training courses, we run through them, and they give us input.”
While the four members of the ski team who’ve met with me represent the high end of the team’s ability level, they assure me that the team is made up of a wide range of experience levels and expertise. They currently have around 22 active members (up from eight last year). “This year we actually have a lot of seniors and a lot of freshmen, a couple sophomores and no juniors,” Combe says. “We don’t have a tryout but we do require that you know how to ski.”
They are allowed to take up to 20 members to each race – five varsity girls and five varsity boys along with five JV girls and five JV boys.
While Combe, Suits, and Padasak have been members of the team for four years, Shinaman is just getting started. “I really enjoyed it,” he says of his first year with the team. “This year you guys were great,” he continues, turning to the three seniors sitting across from him. “It worked out really well – hopefully in the future it will be like that too.”
The ski team, which got its start in 1990, gets the majority of its support from parents and alumni. “Most people don’t like to come [to the races] because it means having to wake up at 8:00 in the morning,” Combe admits.
Nevertheless, the team is proud of their self-sufficiency. They hold an annual race at Bristol Mountain and this year hosted 118 people. “The Bristol stuff we run by ourselves,” Padasak tells me. “All the scorekeeping, gatekeeping, registration.” They even hand-made the trophies – Padasak shows me a picture of mason jars filled with candy and topped with silver and gold spray-painted figures.
Before we wrap things up, my interviewees tell me about the laid-back atmosphere of the USCSA competition. “It’s very friendly – we’re really only competitive when we’re racing,” Combe says. “We form bonds with other teams,” Padasak adds, explaining how they see the same teams every other weekend.
As our interview comes to an end, Combe racks her brain for anything else to add. “What else do we do?” she asks her teammates. “Not sleep,” she concludes with a laugh. Without missing a beat, Shinaman declares, “[But] it’s worth it.”
Rudd is a member of the class of 2017.