Sideline champion

Every other year, the NCAA Championships for skiing take place in the East and we can watch it. This year, NCAA’s were hosted by Bates College at Black Mountain, a place where most of us had already raced at least twice if not three times this season.

On Thursday, eight Dartmouth skiers left campus in a bus at 6 a.m. Despite having traveled to Rumford so many times, we got lost and arrived just before the 10 a.m. race start. We cheered voraciously, ate soup with the racers after they finished, and then we went home to study for exams and write papers.

Saturday was a different story. While there were a few team members who didn’t come because they had exams, almost everyone was on that 6 a.m. bus. Every seat was filled and a few students, exhausted from all-night studying, slept on the floor in their sleeping bags. We didn’t get lost, either.

Before the race, I skied the course with Katie Bono, Audrey Weber, and Sarah Van Dyke. It was sunny and warm, but the snow was still cold from the previous night, hard-packed and very fast. It was great skiing and we got even more excited for our teammates.

These races were long and mass-start, which meant exciting. After seeing the women’s off to a clean start, we ran along the trail until we reached the biggest climb on the course.

Nobody had started a watch, so we didn’t know when the race would come through. We could hear yelling as they went by the loops that passed close to us further down the hill, but it wasn’t until we could hear the sound of their skis and poles on the snow – which came long before we could see the racers – that we knew they were coming.

I barely ever go to races just to cheer. Sure, I see the men race when I’m warming up or cooling down, but when you go to a race for the sole purpose of cheering, you feel like you better do a darn good job.

There was cowbell. There was screaming, the kind when you aren’t sure how your voice is going to sound because you’ve never tried to yell so loud before.

And after two of the 5k laps, there was worry. Did you see that Colorado girl? She was blocking Rosie Brennan so badly! She was slowing down, but she wouldn’t let Rosie by! And Hannah Dreissigacker, it looked like she was stuck behind that pack!

But on the third (last) lap, our girls were looking great. Rosie was in the lead pack and looked strong. Sophie Caldwell wasn’t far behind, and Hannah was in the top 10 and passed a girl as she went by us. We knew we couldn’t beat them to the finish, so we just trusted that their sprinting skills would serve them well. Without even needing a pencil and paper, we knew that they would win the day; no other team had all three skiers in the top 10.

I stuck around until the whole field went by. As my friend Natalie Ruppertsberger, a Plainfield native who skied for Ford Sayre, went by in her Bates uniform, I screamed especially loudly. She had told be she didn’t want pity-cheering: no “good job, you’re doing great.” So I told her she HAD to pick it up, she HAD to pass these girls, she had to GET UP THIS HILL. I ran along beside her yelling until a coach from Alaska admonished me: “Dartmouth, you can’t run with racers like that.” Oops.

As we walked back to the stadium, Audrey and I discussed how great if felt to see our teammates kick some butt. For those of us who feel like it’s a battle to get one of the six varsity spots each weekend, it’s reassuring to know that it’s because our teammates are the best in the country, not because we’re bad skiers.

After congratulating Rosie – who had swiped a podium spot with her 3rd place finish – and Sophie (5th) and Hannah (10th), I headed out to ski again. The snow was holding up well. Before the men’s race, we found a green sharpie and wrote the boys’ names on our bellies. I ran to the start, where Nils Koons was jogging around, and showed him the big “N. Koons” which Courtney had lettered in. “I have your name on my stomach, so you’d better have a good one!” I think he rolled his eyes.

The men’s start was more exciting. Compared to his fellow NCAA champions, 2008 winner Glenn Randall is probably the worst starter of them all, and he was in the bottom five leaving the stadium.

As the men came up the hill the first time, our skiers were clustered in the teens, still in contact with the leaders. Glenn had already made up a lot of spots. We yelled, rang our cowbells, and pulled our shirts up (no, not that far) so the boys could see their names.

Unlike in the women’s race, which had a small lead pack the whole time and boiled down to a sprint finish, the men’s race had a single leader. Vregard Kjoelhamar of Colorado broke early on the second lap. Pat O’Brien and Nils Koons were in the chase pack, but Glenn was nowhere to be seen, and we left one intersection for another before he came through.

When we finally saw Glenn on the hill, he had a large hole in his spandex and was bleeding. Glenn has never been a strong downhill skier and one of the slopes on the course had sent him off the trail. He was making the best of it and passing people, but it was tough to watch. He had already worked himself through the pack once, and it was a lot harder this time around, now that the race was strung out.

As the laps went by, Pat and Nils were still in the chase pack. The last time I saw them, Pat was in a group of maybe eight skiers, three of whom were from Alaska-Anchorage, undoubtedly using team tactics. I hoped that he could hang on going up the big hill, and skied to the finish – this was going to be an exciting one.

After Kjoelhamar (no, he’s not American) came through, we held our breaths. The UAA boys battled to the line against a New Mexico skier, with a Denver racer trailing. Then came Pat! Beating out a Michigan Tech skier in a sprint finish! Pat, who has never won a carnival, had the race of his life and was the first eastern skier. Nils was 14th and Glenn 18th after surviving a hard and doubtless disappointing race. The boys were 3rd on the day, which was pretty great.

Despite these excellent performances, Dartmouth ended up 7th in the overall championship, which combines two days each of nordic and alpine racing. It was not the finish we had been looking for when we entered undefeated. I’ll admit it even if the press release won’t. But I can’t criticize – I couldn’t have skied at NCAA’s, and the athletes who represented us did a great job.

To me, the championships mean something else. I’m meant to be on the sidelines cheering – and that is quite a fun place to be, watching my teammates beat the crap out of the other teams, sprinting to see them as many times as possible, covering myself in green, and yelling for them until I don’t have a voice left to yell with.

And lucky for me, spectating is different from racing – graduation doesn’t mean that next time NCAA’s are in the east, I won’t be out there cheering!

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.

College athletics vs. pro athletics

(author’s note: I feel that I didn’t have enough time to work on this week’s column. As a result it sucks. I am sorry.)

Ruff Patterson.

I swear I'm moving forward and not just standing in a really awkward position. Photo: Ruff Patterson.

I don’t often think of the difference between being a college athlete and a plain-vanilla athlete. I dream about how great it would be to keep competing after college, when I would have more time to train, but these thoughts are purely theoretical.

This weekend, our races were a sprint and a 10k skate. In the sprint, an event I skied decently in December, I just plain wasn’t fast. In the 10k, I had patches of good, aggressive skiing, but when Beth Taylor of Norwich, skiing for Bates, put the hammer down on me on the last uphill, I couldn’t react.

I felt the same way the previous weekend, too. For the last month, my legs have gotten more and more tired, and the speed that was once in them has all but disappeared.

I’m in a bit of a mid-season slump.

Talking to my coaches, I came up with a plan to get things back together for this weekend’s races in Stowe. Take an extra day off. Focus on short, intense sessions rather than long ones that drag out. Jog in the mornings.

But I also needed to approach my problem from a more philosophical standpoint. Shouldn’t I be able to train in between races without ruining my race potential? Isn’t that what every other ski racer does?

Then I realized that yes, every ski racer does it, but it’s a lot easier when you’re not going to school.

This doesn’t explain why I’m more tired and lackluster than my teammates; I’m not going to claim that my biology seminar is setting me at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the college field.

But it reminded me that college skiing presents challenges that professional athletes don’t face. This isn’t the World Cup. We don’t have a team masseuse or even a team doctor, we don’t have bikes to spin the lactic acid out of our legs after races, and we don’t have infinite time to sleep, eat, and recover.

Several weeks ago, I moved into a new apartment for the term. My housemates, who are not varsity athletes, asked how many hours per week the ski team demanded. I considered: 10 or 15 for training in the fall, plus a few more on your own. In the winter, 8 hours of practice plus three days of traveling and racing.

That doesn’t sound like much. But it also only begins to describe the time commitment that we make. That leaves out taking care of our equipment and waxing our skis. It leaves out the team functions, the meetings with coaches, and the hours spent worrying, planning, and preparing for races.

After I ran down this list, my housemate pointed out that I was missing something: sleep. Sleep is a double-edged sword for a college athlete. I need 10 hours every night, which is significantly more than most of my non-athlete friends. But those hours are also hours that I can’t spend doing my homework.

I had another seminal conversation came a few days later, when my friend and former teammate Susan Dunklee asked me how school was going. It was all right, I said. My biology seminar was sometimes a struggle, and I had to stay up later than I’d like to finish the reading for my comparative literature class.

Susan asked about the seminar. Despite the fact that we shared a major, she had never taken a class with the professor. “You’re going to pass, right?”

Yes, of course I’m going to pass (right, Professor McPeek?). But just as I tend to put a lot of pressure on my self to ski phenomenally well, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get A’s in school.

Scholar-athletes are perfectionists. Passing isn’t good enough, and neither is finishing in the middle of the pack. Last year, of our twelve nordic skiers competing at EISA Championships, seven were named Academic All-East. We want our cake and we want to eat it, too; we don’t want to compromise on either scholarship or athletics. This is one reason there was so much press when Dartmouth won the NCAA title for skiing two years ago.

Susan said, “Looking back on Dartmouth, I have no idea how we did it. Keep it up.”

I have no idea how we do it, either. Every once in a while, we feel doubt that we can pull it off. But most of the time, we’re so busy trying that it never occurs to us that what we are doing is improbable.

And even if the college athletic experience presents challenges, let me be clear: none of us would trade it for anything.

So I’ll take the tired legs, thanks, and I’ll take that extra day off and read some ecology papers. This weekend I’m going to put on a green suit and take some names out on the racecourse. Every time I put on that green suit, it’s a privilege, and I plan to keep putting it on all the way through March. My legs don’t have a choice in the matter.

On College Racing

unh-carnival1

Hanging out at the UNH carnival with (l-r) Kristina Trygstad-Saari, Elsa Sargent, and Susan Dunklee, 2007.

Thursday. 1 pm. Bus leaves for Carnival.

This is how it is every week. We come from all over campus, six women: some running from a class which finished 10 minutes ago, some ambling from the ski room where we have been packing up all morning.

We are flustered, we are relieved, we are excited. We are probably forgetting something.

We are on the bus.

***

This week I had been named the alternate for the Bates Carnival. Being the alternate is usually a formality, and sometimes there isn’t even one named. But then, all of a sudden on Thursday morning, Rosie Brennan, who had just returned from the World Cup, was sick.

Before I had time to think “I have some big skiboots to fill,” I was frantically packing my ski clothes, pajamas, toothbrush, race-day snacks, and homework into my duffel.

I brought my giant bag on the Advance Transit bus from my apartment to Robinson Hall, where threw my skis and poles into my skibag and made a quick guess at what wax I would need for the weekend. Various fluorinated glidewaxes, kickwaxes, brushes, and scrapers, along with a cork and a putty knife, were haphazardly crammed into my bag.

I had class from 10 to 12:50, and I must have looked funny powerwalking from Baker Library to Collis, where I grabbed lunch to go.

My teammates had loaded my bags since they knew I would be in a rush.

I was on the bus. The weekend could only get better from here.

***

College racing is familiar to me now. Sometimes I’m one of the six women on the bus and sometimes I’m not, but I know what to expect and our routine is comfortable.

We leave Thursday, then ski at the race venue or somewhere on the way. We check into our hotel, divide space with our roommates, and start working on our skis. We have dinner together, followed by a brief team meeting to go over details for the next day. Before bed we put our chosen pair of race skis on the bus so our coaches, Cami and Ruff, can add the last topcoat of race wax early the next morning.

Friday, we wake up early and eat breakfast. There’s usually not a lot of talking at the table, and breakfast routines can vary widely. The women’s team has good eaters, though; ironically, the men’s team seems to have more unusual relationships with food.

Our captain, Hannah Dreissigacker, drives our bus to the race site if Cami is already gone. We play the radio, but don’t sing along. When we arrive we check in with Ruff and Cami, pick up our bibs, and stake out a spot in the lodge. We listen to our iPonds and then put on our skiboots, grab our warm-up skis, and hit the trails.

After skiing the course and doing some hard pieces to get thoroughly warm, we pick up our race skis from Ruff and Cami and head to the stadium. There, we run back and forth with our poles in an organized chaos of nervous racers. A minute before our start we strap on our skis and try to stay loose.

Then it’s go time.

Friday afternoons are spent sleeping, doing homework, and working on skis. Then the whole routine starts again in preparation for Saturday’s race.

***

Regardless of how my race goes – and of course life is better all around when it goes well – one of my favorite things about Carnivals is the atmosphere.

Every weekend, ten schools bring six women, and we see each other over and over again. Our interactions could be summed up by 2008 captain Elsa Sargent, who said, “Always be nice to Middlebury, you know they hate that.” Rivalries are friendly.

I get to see former high school teammates every weekend: Alice Nelson from Williams, Natalie Ruppertsberger and now Beth Taylor from Bates, and Jennie Brentrup from Colby. Our reunions, whether they are in the lodge before racing, in line at the start, or watching the men’s race, are always gleeful. We exchange congratulations or sympathy, depending on how the day has gone, and gossip.

Regardless of who I’m competing against, we joke on the start line, we wish each other good luck, and we chat even though we’ve only met at races. We know each other’s names. When we get in each other’s way on the course, we often ask nicely before barking for the other girl to move, and we usually apologize if we step on each other’s skis.

During races, there is never a shortage of familiar on the side of the trail. My teammate Ida Sargent’s mother Lindy has come up with such encouragement as “Rage!” and “You’re rocking around the clock!” or, my personal favorite, “You look great and you’re smiling!” when I am not, in fact, smiling. Deb and Dan Nelson are great at cheering, and Knut Joslin, a former teammate who is now coaching at Saint Lawrence, always says something.

Of course, sometimes the cordial attitude disappears momentarily. Natalie stepped on my pole this weekend and I fell, shouting a bad four-letter word as five skiers surged past me. But as soon as we finished, we were hugging and apologizing a million times for tripping each other up.

After the race, Dartmouth parents provide a lavish food table. At Bates this weekend, it was courtesy of the Koons’, the O’Briens, the Sargents, and the Schulz’s.  There was hot stew, macaroni and cheese, hot chocolate and warm cider, burgers, and a huge variety of baked goods. When the men race first, they pilfer a lot of the good stuff before we’re done. Luckily, on this weekend the women raced first.

On Saturday afternoon we drive back to Hanover, exhausted from two days or racing and the consumption of too much good food.

***

It was good to be on the bus. Now that I’m on, I hope I can stay a while.

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.

Moosilauke 2 ways.

Ruff Patterson.

My pain face. Photo: Ruff Patterson.

This weekend I experienced Mount Moosilauke in two parts. Neither was relaxing, exactly, but Saturday was a comfortable kind of work, closing up the Ravine Lodge for the winter.

David Asmussen, an alumni, bucked logs with a chainsaw while I operated the hydraulic splitter. We split and stacked several cords of wood, and he pointed out that I had lifted quite a few tons, so it was all right that I didn’t get into the gym over the weekend.

I enjoyed the harmony of four chainsaws, the splitter, a maul, and the work truck taking away the fruits of our labor. Especially since the weather was decent.

As Hannah Dreissigacker said, manual labor makes you think, but it is not intellectual like schoolwork. You enter a different state of mind as you try to find the most efficient way to complete your task, and it’s a great time to contemplate life.

Our work was repaid with a feast that night: one and two-thirds roast turkeys, stuffing, cranberry, gravy, sweet potatoes, challah, asparagus, potato skins with melted cheese salad, duck with maple-glazed apples, and five kinds of pie (I only tried three).

I fell asleep that night to the sound of rain on the Lodge roof, and worried that at the top of the mountain, the precipitation would be in the form of snow. After only a few minutes, though, the hard work of the day sent me off to sleep, snuggled deep inside my sleeping bag.

The next morning, I ate more pie for breakfast and tried to prepare myself for the days’ task, our annual time trial with Middlebury and whoever else feels like showing up.

I was nervous because three weeks ago, I had come down with a cold.

Being a sick athlete, especially an asthmatic, pneumonia-prone one, is distasteful. I build my life around, among other things, getting out the door to run or rollerski at least once every day.

So I took a few days completely off, and went two and a half weeks without any intensity. Friday, I did my first set of intervals after concluding that I was healthy enough to try. It wasn’t so bad.

Unfortunately, “not so bad” doesn’t cut it when you’re racing up a mountain.

I was given number 32, and started after all the alpine skiers, several mothers, and about half the nordic field.

I started out along the Baker River, running fast on the flat. By the time I got to the first uphill section, which seemed like it was actually a stream filled with rocks, I could see Sophie McClelland from Middlebury in front of me. I felt good.

As I passed a few hikers and spectators, I developed what I would term a “death rattle.” My breathing was even, but not particularly effective as the mucus bounced around my throat and lungs. I crossed the first bridge and turning onto the Gorge Brook Trail. More and more frequently, I stopped to walk in order to negotiate the rocks in the trail without tripping.

After crossing the second bridge and running past Last Sure Water, I began getting caught by the faster runners who started in back of me.

My teammates Hannah Dreissigacker and Rosie Brennan passed me at about the same time as Cassidy Edwards from Middlebury. Although they definitely gave me some motivation to run faster than I could have on my own, when I pushed to keep up with them and run with a pack, I ended up coughing and slowing down.

Climbing up and up through the trees, I thought that each corner would bring me to the landmark I could picture so clearly in my mind: granite steps curving to the left through scrubby conifers, when all of a sudden the view opens up to the sky above treeline.

I glanced at my watched when I finally got to the steps I was looking for: 46:50. My goal time was 50 minutes, but there was no way I could possibly reach the finish in the next three minutes. I still had to climb up to the false flat, cross it, and then make the final ascent to the summit.

Despite the fact that I wasn’t going to get even close to my goal time, I pushed to the finish and finally passing Sophie on the flat. One of my biggest challenges in racing is to continue trying when I know my result will be disappointing.

I think this time trial has something against me. I did not compete my freshman year, because I was running cross country for Dartmouth at that point. My sophomore year, I wasn’t completely healthy, and last year I had an asthma attack.

It turns out that the last time I was proud of my race was in high school.

Maybe that means I’ll have to come back and try again next year – and lucky for the Lodge, maybe I’ll split their wood, too.

Is there an I in team?

The college experience includes more than just one student, one professor or one friend. College, in most cases, is a group activity. And my group includes a cast of characters I spend a lot of time with: my teammates.

Teammates are like family. You can’t pick them, but you have to love them.

Athletics can make these relationships tough, especially in individual sports where one athlete’s success is automatically someone else’s loss.

We only send six women to each varsity race. There are a lot more than six talented women skiing at Dartmouth.

The worst team squabble I’ve seen was in my biostatics class last year. Three of us, who all thought we deserved the sixth spot, were sitting next to each other when our coach announced the team selection over e-mail.

One of us was named. The other two were not. One girl complained loudly about how unfair the selection was, since she thought she deserved it more. We tried to stay mature, but didn’t succeed. When we returned to histograms and correlations, two of us had hurt feelings.

It’s hard to compete against your friends.

But while we bicker occasionally, most of the time we have fun. Those same two girls and I have been on countless bike adventures, cooked experimental dinners, and helped each other with homework and boy problems.

Some of my favorite experiences at college have been with my teammates.

There was that time when Pat O’Brien’s father picked us up after a ski race and there was a dead deer in his truck.

Katie Bono, who’s from the city, didn’t like that. She’d never seen stiff, bloody legs sticking up from truckbeds in Minneapolis, and she didn’t want to put her skis next to dead animals.

Another time, Pete Van Deventer, Pat and I skied through the streets of West Yellowstone after the first snow, and then snuck into a nice hotel to use their pool, water slide, and hot tub.

I’ve spent sunny days on spring break digging sugaring lines out of the snow at Hannah Dreissigacker’s farm. My summers have passed working with Susan Dunklee ever since she suggested I apply for her job when I finished my freshman year.

I’ve visited my teammates houses and met their families. Susan’s mother sewed me a fleece blanket, and Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess’s mother taught me how to shoot a gun. I’ve seen Pete’s sheep and played Lucas Schulz’s family’s piano.

In short, I guess we know each other pretty well.

It’s hard not to, when at races you cramp seven men and women into a hotel room to save money, and you drive out to Michigan in a minibus together to avoid paying for plane tickets.

You also live with them. Both of my housemates, Kristin Dewey and Nils Koons, are on the ski team. Three other skiers live down the stairs.

For years, our building has served as a hub for the ski team. We gather for dinners, birthdays, movies, and fresh-baked cookies and apple pies. Any team member can sleep on our sofa if their bus gets into town at 2 a.m.

I didn’t know Kristin very well before this year because we’re in different classes and we’ve both had our ups and downs on the ski team.

If I’m skiing fast, it seems natural to spend a lot of time with other skiers.

If I am disappointed and frustrated with racing, sometimes I want to get as far from the team – physically and emotionally – as possible.

As a senior, I am realizing that there are a lot of people at Dartmouth I wish I knew better, and a lot of friendships I wish I had started sooner.

But even if my teammates aren’t the first people I want to see, I know that they will be.

We’ll get together early Thursday mornings for our required yoga class, on Fridays for time trials after we’ve stressed out about school all week, or on Sundays at 8 a.m. for a long workout after we’ve stayed up too late dancing.

And I know that, whatever our differences or whatever each of us thinks is our place on the team at that moment, we will laugh, joke, gossip, and, well, love each other as we ski and run across the Upper Valley.