Love Story: Dartmouth Carnival

We get our kicks at Oak Hill. Photo: mama Koons.

We get our kicks at Oak Hill. Photo: mama Koons.

This has been a season of second chances. I haven’t been skiing as well as I think I ought to be, but I have somehow still been able to race on the best and deepest women’s team in the East, and perhaps in the country.

How? Luck. And the Flu.

In our four weekends of college action so far, I have been named the alternate every time. Unusually, I’ve gotten to race three of the four weekends as first Rosie Brennan, then Hannah Dreissigacker, then Steph Crocker succumbed to illness.

For four years, I have dreamed of racing for Dartmouth at Oak Hill, my home course ever since I started skiing in 10th grade. My sophomore year, I made the cut, but there wasn’t enough snow in Hanover; we raced in Stowe.

This year, I muddled through the early part of the season and Cami Thompson promised that if there was any way she could get me the start at Dartmouth, she would.

Last weekend at UVM, I completely imploded in some tough waxing conditions. I even tried to drop out of a race for the first time in my life (the spectators wouldn’t let me). I was sure that my chance to race at Oak Hill had disappeared, but Cami named me the alternate anyway.

At 4 o’clock on Thursday afternoon, Steph Crocker decided that she was too sick to race. I ran around Robinson Hall telling anyone I saw, “I’m racing! I’m racing at Oak Hill!”

Never mind that after UVM, I was unsure about how to move forward and hadn’t been planning on starting even a non-college race this weekend. Never mind that I had stayed up until 1 a.m. writing a paper on Wednesday because I figured I wasn’t racing so sleep didn’t matter. Never mind that I hadn’t worked on my skis at all.

I was racing! Even though I had done nothing to deserve it, my dream was coming true.


Friday was bright and clear, and the rain had stopped. The Oak Hill trails were covered in sugar snow, the S-Turns in sheet ice. Our development team raked snow over the ice after each racer went by, and then watched it pushed to the edges as nervous skiers snowplowed and slid the corners.

My teammate and captain Courtney Robinson was in the announcing booth with “the voice of American skiing,” Peter Graves. As I inched closer to the starting line, Courtney talked about me over the loudspeaker and I grinned up at her.

I crashed in the first kilometer, narrowly avoiding a tree. And I had serious difficulty with my classic wax, as has been unfortunately usual for me this year. Maybe I just didn’t have enough time to get into race mode after the late notice; excitement only takes you so far. In any case, it didn’t match what I had visualized the night before.

But instead of getting upset and crying as I often do after an unsatisfactory result, I just rolled with it. No matter that my five teammates were all in the top 10 and I had struggled into the top 50, by far my worst carnival finish of the year. I was there. I had raced. I told Ruff Patterson my wax had slipped in case he wanted to adjust it for the men.

Then I walked out on the long, rolling stretch behind the ski jump with my high school teammate Jennie Brentrup. It was sunny; we didn’t get cold. She cheered for her Colby teammates and I cheered for the Dartmouth men, and we urged on anyone else we thought was cute.

After everyone was finished, Mr. O’Brien grilled up burgers and Mrs. Koons ladled out hot cider. I sat alongside my teammates, the freshmen with their neon pink hair (girls) and mohawks (boys), which they had spiked with wood glue and spray-painted green.

With a few exceptions, the men hadn’t raced particularly well, but for them that meant filling in the spots between 10th and 20th. They asked how my race was.

“Oh, I rocked 49th place,” I would reply.

“Nice!” Ben Koons said. “You made the top 50!” And so we joked about it, all understanding that it shouldn’t have gone that poorly, but it did, so what can you do.

women's start. Photo: Judy Geer.

women's start. Photo: Judy Geer.

I was more excited for Saturday’s mass start race. The 10k course climbed all the way up Oak Hill. This intimidates a lot of skiers, but I wasn’t scared. Long skate races had been my strength all year.

The men raced first. It was exciting and inspiring. Nils Koons hung with the lead pack the whole time and finished 4th; Eric Packer moved up from bib 23 to finish 5th. Juergen Uhl of UVM lost a ski in the final 300 meters and dropped from podium position to 8th as he scrambled to find it in the ditch.

I have been told that Robinson played Britney Spears’ song “Womanizer” as we sprinted out of the stadium, but I didn’t notice. The sound of sixty pairs of skis on the icy snow was loud. I looked for gaps and had made up a few places by the time we headed down the hill. Chunks of ice flew up in my face as the girls in front of my snowplowed. Two racers crashed in the deep sugar snow, but I managed to get around them.

Then the uphills started and the field slowed down. We came to a standstill at several points as racers tangled up and fell. I relaxed into the pace of the skiers around me, slipping by them when the time was right.

The race course was lined with spectators shouting and screaming, mostly for Dartmouth; I imagine that racing up the Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France would feel like this. Senior co-captain Hannah Dreissigacker said, “Racing up the Oak Hill switchbacks with a huge crowd of people sprinting up the hill to cheer for us at each one was just really exhilarating.”

By the time we reached the outback loop, I was in contact with the top 20, skiing behind Alice Nelson of Williams and Beth Taylor of Bates, both fellow Ford Sayre alumni.

On the next S-Turn, I fell hard. I guess I was overconfident after too many days of skiing Oak Hill in powder; I forgot that it was sheet ice. My pack was gone and another had passed me as I got up. I couldn’t make up much ground over the last three kilometers because the skiing was fast and most of the terrain was downhill.


froshies with pink hair. Photo: mama koons.

froshies with pink hair. Photo: mama koons.

It is tradition for racers to exchange Valentines on the last day of Dartmouth carnival, and we ran around giggling and watching each other’s presentations. And we had the customary barbecue with 26 species of meat. I was a particular fan of the quail Don Cutter had been advertising to me for days.

Saturday was the most fun I’ve had in a ski race in almost two years. The scrambling, the sun, the hint of spring, the crowds shouting my name. Once again, I didn’t mind that my results weren’t as good as I thought they should have been. I soaked it up: my last Dartmouth Carnival, my only college race at Oak Hill, and, excluding any more cases of the flu, possibly my last college race, ever.

As every Dartmouth skier knows, our home carnival is the most special race of the year. Dreissigacker says, “There’s something about racing at Oak Hill that is just awesome.  It’s more than just the fact that it’s our home course. I’m sad that it’s my last Dartmouth Carnival-it’s always been the highlight of my racing season.”

And Robinson said, “standing up in the little announcing shack and watching all of you start, I just wanted to be able to fly over you, encouraging you strong women. I felt so lucky to be able to call this group of green clad racers my friends, teammates, suds buddies. Perhaps it comes a little close to what a parent might feel watching their children out in the world. Not that I am the Mom but I know what it took all of you to be on that starting line, or crossing the finish!”

I have to thank luck, and Cami, for giving me the opportunity to be one of the green-clad racers.

Ode to Oak Hill.

Ruff Patterson.

Alice Bradley, Katie Bono, and I (l to r) skiing at Oak Hill last year. Photo: Ruff Patterson.

After traveling around the country for ski races over the holidays, it was great to come home to Hanover. For the first time in years, there has been consistent snow through December and January, and Oak Hill is a wonderland. It’s some of the best skiing I’ve ever seen in town.

I would like to say that I grew up skiing at Oak Hill, but I didn’t. I grew up on touring skis in my grandparents’ woods in Lyme, where there is a small trail system groomed by Mike Smith. As an elementary school student, the trails there seemed endlessly long.

When I started ski racing my sophomore year of high school (thanks to peer pressure), I found out that skis were made for more than walking on: you could glide! I began training on the 5k loop at Garipay Field and the 15k system at Oak Hill. Although I still do easy training at my grandparents’ house once or twice a year, it’s just for fun; we rarely race on such small trails.

Learning to ski at Oak Hill was an adventure. One of the first things people mention about Oak Hill is the technical downhill corners. Some people I know have hit trees or skied off the trail on the S-turns coming down from the 10k; I’ve been spared that fate so far.

In the beginning, it was because I was timid. I remember one Saturday that first year when my friend Julia Schwartzman made me ski the S-turns coming down from the 10k, over and over, probably ten times, so that I would stop being terrified of them.

Now, they don’t scare me, and I can make it down with the best of them. In practice, we sometimes race from the top all the way to the stadium, or that’s what it feels like at least, trying new lines and seeing how far we can lean into the corners.

The other thing people mention about Oak Hill, of course, is the uphill. Switchbacks cut across the old alpine trails and wind up and up. Then there’s the outback loop, which isn’t actually very long but has a monster climb.

I remember once in high school I watched a Dartmouth carnival race, a 15k skate, and the girls were suffering up the switchbacks, complaining to the spectators about how hard it was. The Dartmouth girls, of course, were doing fine.

Our coach, Cami Thompson, made us ski the whole 5k loop without poles once. So when we race there, the hills don’t seem so bad. If you can ski them without poles, then when you have poles, you’d better be able to catch that girl up ahead.

We have a definite home course advantage on the whole course: the uphills, the downhills, and the way they go together. We know where we can recover on the switchbacks, we know exactly when they’ll be over, and we can make up time on the downhills. The men do workouts on the outback loop so that when they get there in a race, they can make a break and drop the competition.

It’s too bad that with the snow conditions over the last few years, we had a three-year period where Dartmouth carnival was held at other venues. We did fine for ourselves, but we didn’t have the advantage or the satisfaction of winning on our home course in front of our home spectators.

Because, in my seventh year, Oak Hill really is home. When we leave college carnivals on Saturday afternoons, we know that we have to do a long ski the next morning. I look forward to it. Skiing the familiar terrain can cheer me up if I’ve had a bad race, and it’s like a victory lap if the weekend was good to me.

One day on our long ski, I came across Katie Bono sitting in the trail. This isn’t our usual practice activity, so I asked her what she was doing. For her Environmental Studies class, students were supposed to sit outside and write about their relationship with the natural world around them. The back loop seemed like the perfect place to her.

Another time, Hannah Dreissigacker was lying the middle of trail. She was tired and thought she might rest.

Did I mention that Oak Hill is our home?

When I got back from Alaska last Friday, I put on my skis and was very excited to get out on the trails. It completely escaped me that the freshmen had never skied in Hanover before – fall term ended and we left for ski camp before the trails were skiable.

I started out of the stadium, cutting up to the switchbacks rather than starting the 10k or the 5k loop. Steph Crocker began skiing the wrong way up the trail leading into the stadium.

“Steph!” I shouted. “The trails here are one-way!”

“OK,” she said, and kept skiing.

“No, one way the other way!”

There’s a lot of learning to be done your first time at Oak Hill. Another freshman, Nancy Dietman, is from Minnesota, where hills are not so technical. She is a tentative skier. We predicted, “Oh, Nancy, you are NOT going to like Oak Hill!”

We have exhorted her to wedge instead of snowplowing, and to step the turns instead of wedging. Keep your hands in front of you, Cami always says.

When I asked her about her first impressions of Oak Hill, Nancy said, “Ouch!” But she’s learning. I don’t think she loves Oak Hill – the downhill corners have already sent her flying and broken one of her skis – but maybe she’s getting used to it. Maybe by the time she graduates, she’ll feel as at home there as I do.

But I have a three year head start on everyone else, so maybe not.

The season of giving: from the USST to me to Ford Sayre

Greg DeFrancis.

Racing in heavy snow, with Ford Sayre support, at the Stowe Eastern Cups. Photo: Greg DeFrancis.

While many winter sports continue team competition through the holidays, we skiers are lucky. There are no college races until mid-January, so we are free to return to our families.

This doesn’t mean we’re off the hook, of course. We have to keep training and racing, but rather than doing this with the team, we work independently or with our club teams from high school.

The holidays are about giving, and in a sense, this is our chance to give back to our old teams. I return to Ford Sayre, the club that most of the area’s elite skiers call home.

The club’s nordic program, like its alpine program, has produced quite a few college athletes in my age group: Dartmouth teammate Max Hopkins, Alice Nelson of Williams, Jennie Brentrup of Colby, and Natalie Ruppertsberger and Beth Taylor of Bates.

When we ski with the Upper Valley’s high school athletes, we can tell them this: we may be training more than you are now. But when we were your age we were doing exactly what you are doing, or maybe less, and look where we are now. You can ski in college, too.

Last Friday, Alice, Jennie and I went to practice and gave the Ford Sayre athletes some tips about sprint racing. Alice was the best resource, since she’s raced in the quarterfinals at U.S. Nationals. “The reason I like sprinting,” she told a group of high school freshmen, “is that you don’t have time to think about it. You just go.”

I added that for me the key is not to relax instead of skiing frantically. If you ski poorly because you are trying to pick up the tempo, you’ll actually be slower. Alice reworded it more eloquently: “Don’t ski faster than your technique allows.”

The next day we had a chance to demonstrate at an Eastern Cup sprint in Stowe, Vermont.

In the quarterfinals, Dylan and I made strong charges out of the back of our heats, and Alice advanced all the way to the A-Final. I like to think that watching us may have inspired some younger athletes, if only a small amount.

Then I wonder who I am kidding. Skiers like Lizzie Anderson and Heidi Caldwell have podium finishes at junior nationals under their belts, something I had certainly never accomplished at that point in my career. Every year, there is exceptional talent in this pool of junior skiers.

This was illustrated on Tuesday when U.S. Ski Team Development Coach Matt Whitcomb came to practice at Oak Hill.

We huddled around for introductions and Matt explained why he was there. “You may not realize it,” he said, “But Ford Sayre is an important pipeline for us. There’s probably gold medal potential in this group.”

We were going to be working on skate technique. Matt reminded us that he wasn’t scouting, so we shouldn’t try to impress him. Besides, he said, “If you’re relying on me to pull you out of obscurity, sorry, I don’t have that kind of power!”

Matt is a man on a mission. When he’s not coaching his athletes on the national B-Team, he travels around the country making sure that clubs are effectively teaching up-to-date technique. He wants every club to be on the same page, so that when athletes reach the next level, they can focus on fine-tuning.

We skated a few laps holding our poles vertically in front of us to make sure we didn’t bend over as we shifted our weight. Then we held them horizontally across our hips to make sure we faced forward instead of twisting from side to side.

Matt knew all of our names after a few laps, and his attitude was a hit with the young skiers. When he explained things, he started serious, and then moved into more fun analogies. It’s rare to find a coach with such technical skills who can also connect well socially with skiers of all ages. A friend had told me, “Matt is a kick in the pants,” and I would have to agree.

The next drill was what he called the “skate sprint”. The goal was to use both edges of our skis. As we skated we hopped from edge to edge on each ski, and I couldn’t help laughing as I tried to learn the pattern. I felt absurd and was thrilled that I didn’t fall down.

After watching the mayhem, Matt reminded us that playing around on skis is a great way to gain better balance and push the envelope with technique. Training should be fun, and you can’t get better without trying new things.

He mentioned Andy Newell of Shaftsbury, Vermont, one of the fastest sprinters in the world. “Andy will be rollerskiing down a hill at 30 miles per hour, and then, bam, pull a 180, and he’ll be going backwards down the hill at 30 miles per hour.” Our eyes widened. “My point is not that you should try that – please don’t – but that experimenting makes you more comfortable on your skis.”

As the temperature warmed from 8 degrees and the snow softened, we practiced taking corners at speed. Much like bike racers in a criterium, we were asked to commit fully to the inside edge of our skis and lean into the corner. It was fun, and there were a few crashes.

At the end of the session, Matt wished us good luck with our seasons, and told us to ski as much as possible over the break. While we had done a lot of talking, standing around doesn’t make you faster. Skiing makes you faster. Then he added, “Actually, just do what these guys tell you!” and pointed towards Ford Sayre coaches Scottie Eliassen and Dennis Donahue.

I’m taking my cues from Cami Thompson these days, but it’s because I did what “those guys” told me when I was in high school.

And while the gold medal potential Matt was talking about probably isn’t me, I hope I can give back to them some other way.

Piney Relays.

someone else.

Women's nordic team at the ski banquet last spring. Note my awesome bike-jersey tan; it's perfect for formal occasions. Photo credit: someone else.

Monday was our only practice of the year with both nordic and alpine athletes. It was part relay race, part teambuilding. I assumed that meant “easy,” because even the best of the alpine skiers, the All-Americans who can lift twice as much weight as we can, aren’t the quickest runners.

At 2:45, we “nordies” ran out to Oak Hill. After doing weekly intervals there all fall, the jog out is getting a little too familiar. The “pineys” took a bus out instead of running, and I was jealous.

When we arrived, we toured the three race loops. We would have to run each one twice.

The first loop curved up the hill leading out of the stadium, crossed the parking lot, and dropped down to Storrs Pond. Another was an out-and-back on the first hill of the 10k loop. The last was “tree slalom,” winding up and down small, steep hills and narrowly avoiding the big white pines.

We divided into teams of three, with a nordic and an alpine boy and one female skier. My teammates were also seniors, making our team unusual. After all, we were supposed to be making connections with skiers we didn’t know. Sean is a nordie and Michal (pronounced MEE-how) was in my freshman dorm, so we had a head start and could get down to the serious business of racing.

We decided that I would lead off the relay, which consisted of each of us running the first leg, one after the other, and then the second, and so on. I felt like I was back in my high school cross country days as I lined up in the start box.

It was a mad dash up the hill, with runners of us slipping in the mud grass as we tried to get traction. Entering a section of thorny bushes, one of the piney girls darted in front of me to get on the single-track path. I was dismayed. How could I let a piney beat me at my own game?

Along the flat of the parking lot and the access road leading to Area One, I stretched out my stride. It felt good.  Despite the fact that I quit the Dartmouth cross country team after two worse-than-mediocre seasons, I’m in the best shape of my life and that ironically means I’m running faster than I ever did when I raced.

I dropped Corinne Rotter and caught one of the straggling boys, pushing to beat him to the tag zone. When Sean took off, we were solidly in the middle of the pack.

I leaned over to catch my breath and remembered I had five more loops to go. The uphill had not felt good. I chatted with Hannah Dressigacker, who agreed that her legs felt heavy, and had experienced a piney scare of her own. We agreed: we weren’t as fast as usual!

The week before had been a “special intensity week,” with the Moosilauke time trial Sunday, 4 x 4 minute intervals Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and a 5 kilometer rollerski time trial on Friday.

Despite time off and easy distance over the weekend, we hadn’t fully recovered. Training plans depend on having a different focus from week to week, varying the stresses on a skier’s body and forcing it to adapt. Sometimes, you are going to feel tired and slow, but that’s part of the plan.

The teams were in a different order when I started my second leg. I chased down the piney girl who had started in front of me, even though I sometimes felt like I might as well be walking up the hill. Boys who started behind me flew by almost as if I was standing still.

The race wore on and everyone tired. Michal thought he would throw up after every loop he finished; luckily, he didn’t.

When I wasn’t racing, I enjoyed watching the other skiers tackle the tree slalom course. The boys tried to cut the corners as close as possible. A few fell while trying to make quick turns, and they loved to cut each other off and pass on the inside.

It was especially entertaining to watch Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess, who gets quite competitive, attempt to pass 5-foot-1 Alice Bradley, who tried sabotage to hold him off.

The peanut gallery kept track of what was going on. Coaches, injured athletes who had come to spectate, and resting competitors laughed at slips and falls and cheered their teammates as they came into the tag zone.

At the end of the day, Sean, Michal and I finished in the middle of the pack. The race was won by a team of eager freshmen who had somehow amassed a huge lead. I was exhausted; the workout had been far more difficult than expected.

The pineys got back into their buses, and we started jogging back to campus in the gathering dark and cold.

I think the relays achieved their goal of teambuilding. Maybe I can’t remember the names of all of those freshmen boys on the alpine team, but at least I can recognize their faces when I see them on campus.

Culinary adventures, or not.

someone else.

Ski camp is one time when we can cook whatever we darn well please! Mont Saint Anne, Quebec. Photo credit: not me.

I considered last week to be a victory. I can think of only three meals that I ate at the Dartmouth Dining Service (DDS) facilities over seven days.

Why was this a victory? It’s simple: health. When I cook at home, I eat better.

It is certainly possible to eat healthy food on campus. But it is much more possible to do the opposite.

Walking into Food Court, you will often see football players lined up at the grill, awaiting their daily dose of grease: fries, burgers, chicken nuggets, or pizza.

As my housemate Kristin Dewey notes, Food Court provides you the most “calories per dollar” if you’re trying to be economical.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the best place to eat. Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess complains, “I feel gross after eating at DDS… like I’m leaking grease out of my face.”

Maybe Food Court is okay for the football team, but as Kristin says, “It depends on your sport. Runners and skiers can’t carry around too much extra weight!”

I worked hard to lose more than 10 pounds last spring, and I certainly wasn’t eating at Food Court during that time.

That’s the thing: we skiers need a lot of calories, but they have to be the right ones. “DDS can provide a quantity of calories, it’s true,” says Dakota, “but the problem is that when you are entirely missing certain parts of your diet, like good raw vegetables, eating more doesn’t make up for that lack.”

In addition, “The food that is served in significant quantities isn’t very good,” laments Pete Van Deventer. “DDS tends to serve primarily steamed vegetables that lose a lot of their flavor.”

Let me make something clear. I’m not saying that DDS isn’t trying, or that they’re not doing a decent job with what they have to work with. But when you’re trying to feed thousands of students, a drop in quality is to be expected
When I do have dinner on campus, I tend to eat at the Pavilion, which serves Kosher and Halal food. Relatively few students eat there, and the smaller batches lead to better meals.

Unfortunately, the higher quality food is “expensive to eat in the volumes that I need,” says Pete.

Besides the way the food is prepared, we want to know what we’re eating and where it came from. Three of us took Suzanne Friedberg’s “Food and Power” course last spring; this is stuff we care about.

I really admire the Farm to Dartmouth program, in particular, and wish its scope could be expanded. It only accounts for a small portion of the food that DDS serves.

Hannah Dreissigacker has made a goal of eating no meat from DDS this year. “I’m not a vegetarian, but I’ve been trying to only eat meat that I know the source of, not the crazy hormone-antibiotic-corn stuff that I know is what I’m getting from DDS.”

This is a view shared by quite a few members of our team. Ida Sargent says, “I’m used to eating a lot of natural lean protein and it’s hard to find on campus.” To me, locally sourced beef tastes better than the industrial kind anyway.

This might make me a snob. But I’m trying to take care of my body and give it what it needs to train 10 or 20 hours a week. Dakota says, “As an athlete, I value the ‘quality’ of a calorie first.  If I put junk into my body, I should expect it to run like junk.”

The solution is clearly to cook for ourselves.

A stock meal at my house is pasta – usually tortellini stuffed with cheese or spinach – tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chicken sausage, a variety of vegetables, and parmesan cheese.

This simple meal only takes 20 minutes to prepare. I get carbohydrates, vitamins and nutrients from the vegetables, protein, and some fat to hold it all together. Plus there’s leftovers for lunch. Oh, and it tastes really good.

I would love to talk more about the delicious things we cook, or maybe about our four-student bread co-op, but here’s the point that every person I talked to agreed on, summed up by Ida: “I think I’ve eaten a lot less DDS [since moving off campus] because it’s more expensive. I can cook the same thing at home for a much cheaper price and it usually tastes better.”

Dakota gave me three or four examples (including sandwiches, salmon, and a whole chicken carcass), with dollar amounts, of how much more cost-effective it is to buy ingredients and put them together yourself.

Pete noted that he liked local vegetables and cooked them so they were “tasty,” not steamed.

Kristin simply said, “DDS overcharges for everything.”

But here’s the kicker: even when we don’t eat DDS, we still owe the college money. Every Dartmouth student is required to have a meal plan, and the smallest amount you can pay each term is $655. That’s even if you have an apartment and cook your own meals. If we don’t use it up, let’s just say there aren’t refunds.

So maybe last week was a victory for my health and my taste buds, but my checkbook will still be punished.


photo: Geof Little

This was the last weekend before Dartmouth homecoming.

It was a coincidence that before I spent most of the weekend elsewhere. But after all, in order to come home to Dartmouth, you have to leave first.
So I went to my real home in Lyme.

We Hanover High graduates are made fun because we could do our laundry for free if we wanted to, but the truth is that most of us get sucked into campus life and don’t spend much time with our parents.

I only go home about twice a term, and it’s usually on a moment’s notice. Sometimes I don’t even bother to warn my parents I’m coming (hi Mom and Dad).

I’m not the only one. A lot of my friends on the ski team are from Vermont and are grateful to be able to go home if they want to.

Freshman Sophie Caldwell headed back to Peru, Vermont this weekend to recuperate after being sick ever since she arrived at Dartmouth.

When Sarah Van Dyke had mono three years ago, she went to her parents’ house in Stowe, because it was nicer to spend all day in bed there than in a noisy dormitory.

Illness is one of the most obvious reasons to go home. There’s nothing quite like sleeping in a quiet house, in your own bed, with your parents and making sure you take your cough medicine and eat enough meals.

But it’s not the only reason we seek comfort outside our dorm rooms and apartments.

Kristin Dewey and the women of the Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority met, greeted, and deliberated over potential new members until 4 a.m. on Thursday and 2 a.m. on Friday.

By the time Saturday rolled around, Kristin wished she could go home to recharge. Unfortunately, our Sunday morning practices made it impractical; while I can drive down from Lyme by 8, she would have had a challenge.

“I think going home on a weekend or something is a really good way to relax and chill out and kind of re-group,” she told me. “I only go home if I have free time to hang out with my dog and my family… I’m glad I live close by.”

Pavel Sotskov’s family just moved from Gilford, New Hampshire to Meriden, where his father is the new athletic director at Kimball Union Academy. Even before the move, Pavel spent the majority of his weekends with his parents.

“I tend to relax more when I am at home – I can sleep in and get a good breakfast cooked. On the other hand, most of the time I don’t get as much work done… I get carried away with stuff I want to do at home, from going to the store to tinkering with bikes.

“If I didn’t live so close I probably wouldn’t go home as often, but I think it’s a convenience that I might as well use.”

As I left my apartment on Saturday, Hannah Dreissigacker asked, “are you going home? I’m so jealous! It’s going to be beautiful up there!”

And she was right. Our family has the kind of house you are probably familiar with: an old farmhouse with a barn that’s sinking into the ground, miles and miles of decaying split-rail fences and crumbling stone walls, and more grass than our animals can possibly mow.

I spent Saturday afternoon sitting in a field across the driveway, with my dog, Bravo (who is only partially mine after four years of college), sitting next to me watching over the farm.

When I looked up from the biology papers I was reading, I could see across the valley to Thetford, where the hills were blanketed in color.

Did I do as much work as I might have on campus? No.

Elsa Sargent would head home before final exams and finish her term papers days before the rest of us. I’m not so focused. To me, mental recovery is more important.

Hannah and I discussed how a lot of students forget that there is a “real world” outside of campus. Maybe going home isn’t the best way connect with the real world, but at least you get out of the Dartmouth bubble.

Hannah hails from Morrisville, Vermont, but her family has a farm in West Fairlee. “It is my absolute favorite place to escape to.  I like going there with friends to pick apples or tap the maple trees for sugaring, and it reminds me that school is not really that important after all.  The only problem is that it makes it hard to go back to classes.”

Right, classes. Maybe I should have spent more time on them this weekend.

the last first day.

Tomorrow, I will begin my senior year at Dartmouth College and with it my final season of collegiate ski racing.

Although winter sports teams can’t hold official practice until the first day of fall classes, the reality is that we are all deep into our training seasons.

Training started in April for me. I began lifting weights in the gym and going on short runs and long easy rides on my road bike. Even though I grew up in Lyme, there are corners of the Upper Valley which are still unfamiliar, and my bike is the best way to find them.

In May the runs lengthened to one or two or hours, often in the hills of Norwich with teammates and friends. We watched the deciduous trees leaf out across the valley from the top of Bragg Hill Road, and we tried to stay dry while negotiating the mud and streams on the trail from Tilden Hill to Beaver Meadow Road.

Summer came and while the sophomores stayed on campus and practiced daily with Ruff, the men’s coach, the rest of us scattered across the country to places like Park City, Utah; Morrisville and Orleans, Vermont; Crested Butte and Durango, Colorado; Worcester, Massachusetts; Bend, Oregon; and a large, green bus or a slim bicycle criss-crossing the United States.

My teammates told me stories from camps with regional development teams, practices with high school teammates and coaches, and visits to see each other.

There is a book titled The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I haven’t read it, but it must describe my training pretty well, because I never had a partner.

I worked 40 or more hours a week on my senior thesis project, time spent outside observing and measuring plants. It was stressful to be responsible for my own research and results.Training was one of the things that kept me sane.
I’d rollerski out from Crested Butte along Highway 135, starting in the cold at 6 a.m. before the sun came over the hills and before the cars were on the road. The coffeeshop was my reward for getting out of bed, and I’d finish with a mocha before scrambling off to work at 8:30 or 9.

Those early mornings gave me time to think about things at a slower pace, to organize my life, and to maintain an emotional existence instead of becoming a research robot. In the field, the plants had all of my attention; training gave me the time to plan weekends and trips, and to get over it when my boyfriend broke up with me.

Eventually, we started coming back to Hanover, one at a time, to lead freshmen trips or to move into apartments before taking one final vacation. Only a few of us have been here consistently over the last few weeks – those of us with lab or office jobs to pay for rent, tuition, and new skis.

We train in small groups, rollerskiing out along Route 10 after work, or on our own, hitting up our favorite running trails before official practice dictates our routes.

Tomorrow all of this will end. Not only will we spend the day in classes, exercising our slightly musty minds – I’ll be learning about the environmental applications of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) – but at 2 o’clock, we will all assemble in Robinson Hall and do the same workout.

Just like classes, practice means tests. You can no longer fool yourself into thinking that you’re in better shape than you actually are. There are time trials and strength testing, especially in the first week. Maybe you’re right where you want to be, or maybe your teammates are leaps and bounds ahead of you – now you get to find out.

Before the first practice of every year I get little butterflies. I feel like I have to prove myself in these early weeks and I’m nervous for our first time trials. Sometimes I want so badly to do well that I sabotage myself. I know that for me, staying in it mentally is 90% of the race, but even knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to stay tough.

My teammate Minal Caron said, “I was nervous freshman year. But testing just is what it is, and you’ll always have excuses, so I don’t worry about it that much anymore.”

Yes, I’ll always be able to make excuses if I do poorly. Most athletes could take up side careers as professional excuse-makers. But nervousness is another degree of excited, and I’ve always thought that if you aren’t at least a little nervous, then there’s something wrong.

So I’m ready, senior year. Bring it on, butterflies and all.