Club ski team practices on without snow

by Monica Wright

The summer seems like the perfect time for the Minnesota alpine ski team to take a break and relax.
After all, they’ve spent much of the winter pounding the hills around the Midwest competing against area colleges.
But the 35-member ski team doesn’t see it that way. Though only a club sport at Minnesota, the alpine ski team’s devotion to practice is comparable to that of any varsity sport at the University.
“The only thing that separates us from the varsity sports is money,” current team president Tanya Tanner said. “We even compete against a lot of teams that are at the varsity level at other schools.”
Beginning in the fall, the team spends three hours a day, four days a week, doing what they call ‘dryland’ workouts that consist of anything from running and biking to kayaking and intramural soccer.
Once snow hits the ground, the team heads to Afton Alps to ski gates, run drills and videotape runs with their coaches. Both Saturday and Sunday are taken up by racing at schools like Michigan Tech, Wisconsin, and Minnesota-Duluth during the season.
But in the summer, they get a little more creative with their workouts; this year, they decided to try dirt skiing.
Now, no dirt pile is safe from the assault of helmeted skiers in beat-up skis as they descend in a practice run that usually ends with a fall.
“Dirt skiing is more of a gimmicky thing,” former club president Peter Westman said. “It’s not something we do all the time, but it’s something different.”
When not finding alternative means of practice, the ski team works to raise any additional funds the $4,000 club-sports stipend doesn’t cover — which can add up.
This means selling concessions at Gophers basketball games, cleaning the Sports Pavilion after wrestling meets and holding an annual golf tournament to cover the cost of hotel rooms, flights and coaches.
Anything that isn’t covered by the team funds comes out of the pockets of the participants. An annual practice trip to Aspen runs the average team member around $400.
Despite any financial woes, the ski team has no problem finding new talent each season.
“The ski racing community is pretty small, so we hear about good people through word of mouth,” Westman said. “Our team has grown from eight or nine people a few years ago to about 35 people today.”
Such recruiting has paid off recently in the form of a trip to nationals in New Hampshire for the female half of the team, where they placed tenth out of eighteen teams.
But Westman is quick to point out that the team isn’t solely focused on competition.
“Some people ski raced in high school and are looking for a way to keep it up,” Westman said. “And some people have never raced and want to learn to ski better. Either way, you can have a good time.”

Monica Wright welcomes comments at [email protected].