Big Green vs. the World

Cheering for our teammate Ali Crocker at the Silver Star World Cup, 2005.

Cheering for our teammate Ali Crocker at the Silver Star World Cup, 2005.

With Dartmouth Winter Carnival fast approaching, students are hurrying to finish their work so that they can drink and dance at the fraternities.

But many Dartmouth students forget that Winter Carnival was initially founded as a weekend to celebrate outdoor activites, particularly that fledgling college sport: skiing. The first carnival ski races were swept by A.T. Cobb, class of 1912. Since then, Dartmouth skiing has never looked back.

It is no secret that Dartmouth has been very successful in NCAA competition. But what about after these skiers graduate? It turns out that they keep racing. Many of my former teammates are now competing internationally.

This includes Mikey Sinnott and Kristina Trygstad-Saari, both class of 2007, chosen to represent the U.S. in World Cup competition this January; Sam Naney, class of 2006, and older graduates Brayton Osgood and Kate Arduser, who have raced all over the world; 2007 and 2008 captains Sara Studebaker and Susan Dunklee, who just returned from biathlon competition in Europe; and Carolyn Bramante, class of 2006, has already represented the U.S. in one Olympics and is aiming for a second.

There are more Dartmouth grads on the international circuit than alumni from almost any other school. Why? I asked some of these athletes for their opinions.

First there are the details. Day to day life on the Dartmouth Ski Team forces athletes to take responsibility for their own training. While there is a weekly plan, we have to adjust each workout based on what our bodies are telling us. Dunklee said, “I came out of Dartmouth with a firm grasp of the theory behind the training plan and a good feeling for when and when not to push myself hard.”

This doesn’t change on race day. We test our own skis and wax, and contribute to selecting the team’s race wax. We are responsible for finding our own best warm-up routines, making intelligent breakfast choices, and nearly everything else that goes into race preparation.

Junior Katie Bono believes that these small things are what will help her most in her post-collegiate career. “The way the team is set up gives athletes skills to keep skiing after college. The coaches don’t coddle you. You have to be on top of your stuff and strong in your sense of self.”

While Sinnott agrees that the team has always had a culture of “never giving in, and being tougher than the rest,” it’s not all stoicism and responsibility.

Dartmouth also emphasizes love of the sport and even has an annual award for the skier who most embodies “skiing as a way of life.” Dunklee says, “The team has the right attitude: training hard balanced with playing hard.  It keeps people enjoying the sport, and as a result they don’t burn out as easily.”

We are encouraged to run longer than we’ve ever run, to start a race and without being afraid of failure, to experiment. We go ski just for the pure joy of it. Racing is important, but if you don’t love the skiing in its own right, you can’t excel at it. We make sure we have fun.

Says Bramante, “This fosters a love for the sport and others in the sport, which is absolutely important!”

Cami Thompson, the women’s coach, agrees. The focus is never on just a single race result, or just the six-week college season, or even just a collegiate career. “Our mission to develop skiers; we want them to get better while they’re here. It’s just a step along the way in the process. Ruff (Patterson) and I feel strongly that it’s a process. We want people to look at the bigger picture.”

And so, while the program may force athletes to take responsibility for their own training and racing, and it may promote grueling but fun adventures we would never have had the guts to try before we got here, it is perhaps a philosophical difference that separates us from the rest.

Sinnott says, “The most interesting comparison is to the western schools, who have recruiting resources, scholarships, less demanding academic standards, and consistent snow.  Yet they rarely produce an American skier who continues their career.”

Thompson points out that these Western state schools are more interested in recruiting athletes – often from Europe – who are already going fast. They are most concerned with how their program will fare that year, or how that athlete will fare as a college skier. That’s how they spend their money.

Dartmouth is different. Cami and Ruff are willing to work with skiers like me, who didn’t come in with a lot of credentials. They take these skiers and develop them alongside their recruited talent, to the benefit of everyone.

The team focuses not only on NCAA’s, but also races at SuperTours, U.S. Nationals, Spring Series, and, occasionally, Canadian Nationals. Brayton Osgood, class of 2003, says that “Ruff always made sure we were aware of skiing beyond the EISA circuit. College racing was important, but so were US Nationals and international competition.”

One of the first times I was really aware of international racing was in high school. At the 2003 Cross Country World Championships, Dartmouth graduate Carl Swenson, in a 50 kilometer skate race, was skiing well with a shot at the podium when he broke a pole. He skied with a broken pole for a while, got a new one, and eventually ended up 5th.

Swenson is finishing law school now, but, Sinnott points out, “There has always been a Dartmouth skier at the Winter Olympic Games. ” Osgood, Sinnott, Bramante, Studebaker, and Dunklee all state that they hope and plan to ski in Vancouver in 2010, and even beyond.

Thompson says, “After years at Dartmouth, that’s the thing we’re the most proud of, is the number of people who are still involved in skiing.”

The rest of us may be stuck in school, but knowing that our teammates are out there, going for it, gives us the confidence to think that maybe, once we’re done with school, we might be able to do the same thing. In the meantime, we’ll sport the green as part of a team with a proud tradition.

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