Despite awful conditions on Mammoth Mountain in California, the Castleton men’s alpine skiing team secured its first ever national championship in program history.
The win comes as a relief, after the team fell just short in 2020 and 2018, which “still stings a little bit,” said head coach Chris Eder.
This season was marred by very inconsistent weather that proved to be uncooperative for the alpine skiers, who “want the race surface to be icy and rock hard,” Eder said.
So, in a season full of dangerous ski conditions, it’s poetic that the national championships location was hit with nearly 10 feet of snow, which pushed the races back a day before some were canceled entirely.
For freshman skier Aksel Stroem-Hansen, a top-10 finisher at nationals, the mountain “had the most significant snowfall I have seen in my whole ski career.”
Weather like this makes it difficult to reach high speeds, but it also makes alpine ski racing incredibly dangerous.
“The conditions were so challenging that other racers at the start were talking about just trying to make it down to the finish line instead of trying to perform their best… I had made up my mind to perform my best,” Stroem-Hansen said.
In order for the skiers to be able to perform their best, they devised a plan where after they each made their run, they would communicate via a radio to the next Spartan skier, telling them what to expect.
“As more and more racers ski the course, the conditions deteriorate, so communication up to the athletes at the start is very important,” Eder said.
While Stroem-Hansen found comfort in watching the skiers who went before him, he also found joy watching the two skiers who went after him.
“The two of them were completely sending it down the mountain as fast as they could, taking such serious risks that rewarded them with a lot of speed. It was truly impressive,” he said,
After they all finished their runs, they ended up with the first national championship in men’s alpine skiing history.
“Back in August, they spoke about the goal of winning a national championship. Come February and March, they believed they would win it … Everything came together for us,” Eder said.
“It took some time for it to sink in, but once it did I could not help but think about what a nice team we have, and of course the celebration to come,” Stroem-Hansen said.
Being the first time this team has won the national championship, it seems to have more weight with it than it otherwise would.
“We meet a lot of alumni skiers who are cheering us on and helping us out… This win was a win for all prior students as well as the current ones,” Stroem-Hansen said. “It’s an honor to show what the ski team of a little Vermont school can do.”