Steamboat Springs Alpine ski team increases in numbers through positive camaraderie and success
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — At the bottom of Howelsen Hill Ski Area on Thursday, the Steamboat Springs High School Alpine ski team made tracks down a giant slalom course.
Head coach Mike Farny stood at the bottom, shouting words of encouragement or pulling his skiers aside for words of advice.
After every couple of runs, athletes gather inside to warm up, laughing and talking about their practice. Many of the skiers are multi-sport athletes. Some of them play basketball. Two senior girls, Macayla Scheidt and Winter Boese are in their first year of Alpine skiing and, as Nordic skiers, can contend for a state ski-meister title.
“I don’t really know much about this sport. I just follow what everybody else is doing,” Boese said. “The Alpine team just sounded like so much fun.”
Boese said she goes to Nordic ski practice from 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, but on Wednesdays and Thursdays, she also adds the 6 to 8 p.m. Alpine ski practices, meaning she has four-hour ski days.
Boese set aside her hockey sticks to try something new this year, and notes that even the four-hour days on snow are easier than balancing both hockey and Nordic skiing. It’s a lofty goal to want to be a state ski-meister, having to be a state contender in classic and skate Nordic skiing and Alpine skiing, but it’s something new to work towards.
Being a part of the Alpine ski team is something different, which might be why the team attracted a crowd of 24 girls of varying levels this year. Steamboat junior Ella Pietras was part of the recruitment, asking her friends juniors Morgan Sauerbrey and May Thorpe to join. There’s even an exchange student from Iceland on the team, junior Margaret Jonsdottir.
“Well, they’re my two best friends, and we free ski all the time,” Pietras said. “So, I thought it would be fun if they did the high school team with me. They’re super competitive, and they really like going fast.”
Pietras is no beginner. She placed fourth in slalom at the state meet as a freshman, then qualified for state last year, also. She’s hoping for a top-five finish this year at state.
As a team, Farny doesn’t like to set solidified goals. He’d love to take a large group of skiers to state, where the top three skiers score for the team, but he also wants them to enjoy skiing and learn how to get better.
“I told them the more kids that come out, the more fun it is,” Farny said. “I think they went and just recruited their friends.”
Last year, the boys only qualified three, leaving no room for mistakes. With more skiers competing, there are better odds to compete well as a team. The boys have eight athletes, including sophomore state qualifier Alden Wade from last year, but Farny believes there are more potential podium finishers.
“Most athletes at this age train better than they can compete,” Farny said. “We’re trying to bring the focus to training, and when they get to a race, just do what they do at training to be able to compete at their best.”
The upcoming race in Aspen on Friday, Jan. 11, will be giant slalom, which Wade admits is his weaker event. He placed in the top 10 in slalom last year, which is a quicker race requiring more technical turns. He’s been working on creating a straighter path down the giant slalom.
“State was a really cool experience,” Wade said. “The vibe is just amazing. Slalom is my main event. I really like the quickness of it. I think of it as more of a dance than the slow turn of giant slalom. It’s a lot more interesting and fun.”
But Wade likes the sport because it enables him to go anywhere and have fun. He vividly remembers his grandparents pushing him down a hill on plastic skis
“Now, I’m not an amazing skier,” Wade said. “But you can just ski so much more and always push forward and improve on it, which is such a good feeling when you progress.”
The boys team also returns sophomore Stefan Grabowski, who missed most of last season with an MCL injury. He’ll be one of the top competitors to aid the Sailors in a state appearance.
The Alpine ski team will have six meets before state, and since Steamboat Springs has been off to a great snow year, Farny hopes the month of training will aid in the team’s first competition at Aspen.
But most important to him is the culture of his team, where kids pick up the gates without asking after practice and enjoy each other’s company. As a former World Cup skier and collegiate coach, the atmosphere of high school coaching is refreshing.
“They’re just the coolest group of kids,” Farny said. “They all help and put stuff away. They take it on themselves and they help set up the course and really get involved. I don’t know where that culture started or how that got started. For me, the highlight is on the bus ride home after the races. They play music and they’re all dancing and singing, and that’s what you want kids to do in high school is have good, healthy fun.”
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