Hailing from four continents across five time zones and coalescing in Castleton, Vermont exists the Castleton Alpine Ski Team.
The fastest non-motorized sport places the athlete in direct competition with a steep, icy mountain face. It’s a silent sport, as the mountain drowns out the throat-tearing cries of spectators, coaches, and teammates.
Nov. 1 marked the first snowfall of the 2023-24 season, a gentle, cold reminder of what was to come. The early return to campus for training on Jan. 2 was defined by hours in tuning rooms applying wax, scraping, sharpening, brushing, removing sidewall, skimming the skin off the tops of fingers and deep, clean cuts signaling a sharp ski.
Indeed, the sport extends beyond the slopes to the meticulous maintenance of equipment.
Following a successful 2022-23 season that concluded with the title 2023 USCSA Men’s Overall National Champions, 2023 USCSA Men’s Slalom National Champions, along with the women’s side earning fifth position at nationals, the team eagerly anticipated the slopes.
“Training has been going well. It hasn’t been perfect, but I believe we have been making the best of it,” explained head coach Chris Eder.
Citing the warmer temperatures that diluted Castleton’s ‘white Christmas’ and rain that tainted early January, ski resorts were forced to recover from the lost snow. Herein lies the intersection between recreational and competitive sports and the political grounding of climate change. Harkening to truncated ski seasons and soft, slow snow is the reality facing alpine skiing.
“We were forced to only train slalom, as giant slalom requires a longer trail, and many mountains were just not ready to accommodate us for giant slalom training. Luckily, our first two races were slalom races, so it all worked out for us,” Eder said.
The first two races of the season were held at Proctor Mountain, a slalom FISU race saturated with D1 athletes. The first two weekends of the season are FISU races, indicating that athletes can make and improve their individual FIS point status (unlike college races, which are not sanctioned as FIS races). The competition thus rages internally for each athlete’s FIS status and externally for the team result.
The long weekend was punctuated with T-bar breakdowns, rainfall, bags of salt, and early alarms. The men’s team earned first place in Friday’s first race, and fifth on the second race. Individually, senior Lorenzo Mencaccini earned first place in both races, overtaking alumni Paul Rechberger for the Spartan’s all time individual wins record. Junior Filipo Collini joined Mencaccini on the podium in third position for the first race, while sophomore Aksel Stroem-Hansen earned third in the second race of the day.
The women’s side, missing a few key skiers, was able to pull off third place in both Friday and Saturday’s events with sophomore Emilie Stene securing the top position. As the season begins, these results show a promising start.
“We have seen success early on, but I do not believe our student-athletes have peaked yet,” Eder said.
“Ice-face” was the phrase that underscored the second race weekend held at Whiteface, Mountain in New York. The bitterly cold temperatures reinforced the unforgiving environment of ski racing as athletes stripped down to a thin race suit and suffocated their feet in too-small boots to face the one-minute giant slalom hill.
In tandem with frost-bitten toes was success on both the men and women’s side as both teams earned first place on the first day of competition. Mencaccini topped the podium with Stroem-Hansen in second while Stene and sophomore Karleigh Hollister stood at first and second for the women’s side.
The second day of races followed in similar suit as men took first place and women second. The men’s podium was overrun with Spartans as Collini took first, Mencaccini second, and freshman Raphael Fischer took third.
As the team builds off the momentum and success of last season, they look forward to the remainder of the season and the “peak” to come.