Skiers Look to Take on Slopes

By JAKE TURTEL

The opportunity to ski and snowboard factors into the college decision for a good number of Middlebury students. With convenient shuttles to the Snow Bowl offered almost hourly and Sugarbush Mountain less than an hour away, opportunities to get on the snow are everywhere. The mountains are a place of escape for many, a destination that makes cutting class entirely excusable when it snows enough during J-term. But whether they ski at Mad River Glen or board down Mead Chapel Hill, the majority of campus probably approaches snow sports somewhat differently than members of the Division I Middlebury Alpine and Nordic ski teams.

Given the studied precision with which Panther downhill skiers attack the slopes, you can be sure that they take careful note of mountain conditions when they plan their runs. “Every day, every run is different from the last,” says Devon Cardamone ’18. Unlike track — another timed sport — “every course is different on any given day, and it’s not a sport where you have a ‘best time’ or a personal best.” As a general rule, fresh powder is enough to make the casual skier’s mouth water; the term “casual skier,” however, hardly applies to a DI athlete who loves nothing more than to get down the slope as fast as possible. With that in mind, could you really blame Cardamone for preferring his hills “steep and icy”?

Sure, many of us can get down the mountain just fine — but it probably looks much different than how Caroline Bartlett ’19 (also captain of the skiers’ IM hockey team, ironically named “Snowboard Club”) does it. Last year she took home three Carnival wins (all in Giant Slalom), five top-five finishes, an NCAA qualifying bid, and second-team All-East honors for the Alpine team. Jackie Atkins ’20 was the other Panther Alpine NCAA qualifier, posting a very strong season in her rookie year: she placed in the top-15 seven different times.

But those two aren’t the only ones on the Middlebury team with postseason races in their sights. Vermont native Lexi Calcagni ’19 is looking to build on a solid season after posting a couple of top-10 finishes, including an eighth place performance in giant slalom at the 2017 Middlebury Carnival. Fellow Vermonter Katie Utter ’20 will also challenge for a Carnival spot after posting six top-20 finishes in her first year. As a whole, the women’s Alpine team finished with third-place finishes in the final three carnivals of the 2017 season and 14th overall at NCAAs.

On the men’s side, Riley Plant ’18 and Cardamone will lead the way. Despite his warm-weather roots (average January temperature in his hometown of Auburn, CA: 46 degrees Fahrenheit), Plant has seven top-10 finishes over the course of his three-year career. Cardamone, a Coloradan, earned a second-place result in the Giant Slalom at the Vermont Carnival in addition to placing 12th twice over the course of the season. Veteran Angie Duke ’19 figures to challenge for a carnival spot after placing 10th and 12th in a pair of races last year.

Team chemistry could be the key to improving on these results. This year’s team “is the most cohesive unit I have seen since I’ve been here,” says Plant. “Our young skiers are huge sources of energy and enthusiasm, and our upperclassmen have done a tremendous job in fostering a balanced team dynamic,” says Plant.

The Panthers aim to build on those team dynamics with a work ethic that will play a large role in their 2018 success. The Alpine team spent an increased amount of time in the weight room this offseason, alternating between dumbbells, barbells, and balancing on Bosu balls. While the gym isn’t wholly necessary for the average skier, “it’s really important to develop explosive power, quickness, and endurance in order to take advantage of training opportunities and to prevent injuries,” according to Bartlett. But obviously, getting on the snow is just as important: to that end, the recent cold “provided some amazing early season conditions,” she said.

This “on-snow training” began in earnest over Thanksgiving Break. While many of us were gorging ourselves on turkey and pie (the present author being no exception), the team had traveled out west to Loveland, Colorado and was getting their first runs in.

Downhill skier Jack Schibli ’18 gave us an inside look into the rigorous training regimen required of a Division I athlete. It all starts with planning spring academic schedules, he said; in order to maximize training time on the mountain, the team chooses classes that start 11:15 a.m. at the earliest. While many of us are still sleeping, the Alpine team hits the dining hall when it opens at 7 a.m. before leaving for the Snow Bowl at 7:15. After around six to eight runs, they return to campus at 11 a.m.

After classes end, the team retires to the locker room to meticulously prepare their skis for the next day of training. “This includes sharpening the edges, waxing the base, letting the wax sit for at least 30 minutes and then scraping and brushing it out. Usually while we wait for the wax to cool, we’ll do a light workout… That whole process usually takes us into dinner around 6pm,” said Schibli. Next is homework (that’s right, even Division 1 athletes grind in the library) and some much-needed rest before starting it all again the next day.

It is perhaps due to this grueling daily schedule that Plant has seen “vast improvement from our rising upperclassmen. Our first-years have [also] shown great speed in training every day.

All in all, the team looks well-poised to contend with the best, especially in giant slalom.”

On the men’s Nordic side, experience will not be lacking. Just like the women’s Alpine team, Nordic placed third in the final three carnivals of the 2017 season. Massachusetts native Lewis Nottonson ’19 was the lone Panther to earn an NCAA Championship bid after placing sixth in the 20K Freestyle at Middlebury, topping his previous-best 11th place finish earlier in the year (10K Freestyle at St. Lawrence).

Coming extremely close to 2017 NCAA bids were New Yorker Adam Luban ’18 and Sam Wood ’19 from Maine. Both Luban and Wood’s season-best finishes were ninth in the 10K Classic (the former did it at Dartmouth while the latter was at the Vermont Carnival). Veteran Evan Weinman looks to finish his career strong after crossing the finish line in the top-ten five times in various events over the course of 2017.

Rounding out the men’s roster are Jacob Volz ’18, Gabe Mahoney ’20, Max Polito ’20, and a pair of rookies — Calvin Bates ’21 and Peter Wolter ’21 — looking to make a name for themselves.

For the women, success will be tied to their senior leadership. Cate Brams ’18 and Katie Feldman ’18 begin the 2018 season with NCAA aspirations after closing out the majority of their 2017 races as the top two Middlebury competitors. Last season, Brams achieved a fifth-place finish in the Freestyle Sprint at the Vermont Carnival and wound up sixth in the 5K Classic at the EISA Championships; Feldman’s top individual finish was 15th in the 10K Classic at the University of Vermont.

The rest of the squad is very young, with no juniors on the roster. Four sophomores will battle for Carnival spots (Alex Cobb ’20, Sophia Hodges ’20, Annika Landis ’20, and Orli Schwartz ’20) along with a couple of first years (Avery Ellis ’21 and Alexandra Lawson ’21).

Like the Alpine team, the Nordic squad believes their team chemistry will be crucial to 2018’s success. This year’s team is “more cohesive than we’ve been in the past,” said Feldman. “I’ve been really impressed by our first years and sophomores. They’ve done a great job stepping up in both training and racing, and I’m excited to see what they can do in the rest of the season.”

While the beginning of a season always brings promising new hope, this will be the last year of collegiate competition for eight members of the Panther ski teams. Like anyone who has devoted such a massive amount of time and effort to their passion, many of these seniors couldn’t help but evince some sadness as they looked forward to the end of their seasons. However, the moment also provided them an opportunity to reflect on how best to take advantage of their remaining months as a Middlebury student-athlete.

For Plant, that process involves taking the time to truly bond with the team. “Heading into my last season, I’m really looking to have as much fun as possible,” he said. “The results tend to be better when I focus on the things that remain consistently positive, and my teammates are particularly important for that,” he says. Most importantly, Plant plans to leave nothing on the table: “I also hope to take some chances and really ski aggressively while I still have the opportunity to do so.”

With one last season comes one last Winter Carnival, perhaps the defining moment of the ski season for students and athletes alike. Held at the Snow Bowl and the Rikert Nordic Center, Middlebury’s lone home event falls on February 23rd and 24th; numerous students attend each year, creating a one-of-a-kind home advantage.

Like the rest of his team, Cardamone loves this particular weekend. “It’s awesome racing at winter carnival just because there’s so much support from the rest of the school. There aren’t many college ski races where you can actually hear people cheering for you while you ski by… the students are having [so much fun] and it adds to the energy on race day.”

Asked to sum up the team’s aspirations for the season, Plant might have put it best: “Go big or go home, ya know?”

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