After a decade-long absence, alpine ski racing is officially back at Bowdoin reviving one of the College’s oldest traditions. Thanks to efforts by Alex Fogarty ’13 and Duncan Masland ’11, Polar Skiing has been transformed into the College-approved Alpine Skiing Club.

Starting as a club around the 1950s, alpine skiing used to be a major fixture of student life. Bruce Chalmers ’59 was one of many Bowdoin students whose life was touched by skiing and now helps support the new Alpine Skiing Club.

“I always loved skiing and have been a part of skiing,” Chalmers said.  “I insure most of the ski areas in the state so I have always stayed close to skiing.”

Sugarloaf and Sunday River were both in their infancies at the time, and the team skied at Pleasant Mountain (now Shawnee Park) because it was closer to Brunswick. 

The alpine ski racing club operated on a shoestring budget; Chalmers housed the team at his family home in Bridgton where his parents fed the athletes, and local ski resorts cut the team deals on using the hills. Finances were always a major obstacle and that problem only grew with time.

“The director of athletics would call me into his office in the fall and cut me a check for $800 and say, ‘make it last,’” Chalmers said. “It was mostly a self-run organization. We had an advisor but it was mostly run by us. There wasn’t that much money in the athletic fund and as time got on, it got to be more and more expensive. When I was there, we paid our own bills but the team did take time away from school. Skiing is fairly expensive. The logical thing was probably to eliminate the ski team.”

Despite its low budget, the team was quite successful. Bowdoin won the state championship in 1958 while Chalmers was on the team, beating the University of Maine-Orono, Colby and Bates. 

The club became a varsity sport in the ’90s, but the athletics department cut it in 2003, citing school-wide budget cuts, lack of participation and growing concern about travel disrupting the academic lives of the student-athletes. This decision was met with a much criticism from then-Head Coach Martin Wilson, athletes on the team such as Sara Laverty ’03 and Siri Ashton ’05, and  alumni.

Chalmers was saddened—though not surprised—at the College’s decision. 

“One of the problems is that ski meets are usually a couple days long,” he said. “You have to leave Thursday nights, miss classes Friday, and in my time there were Saturday classes. You wouldn’t get back to Bowdoin until late Sunday night; it took a whack out of your classes.” 
Even though ski racing was gone, the interest in skiing at the college never really waned. Alpine Skiing Club co-founder Masland was a member of the Bowdoin Ski and Ride Club, which has mostly served as a go-between for students who need transportation and lift tickets to some of the mountains in Maine. There had been talk of creating a racing team during his first two years here but nothing much came out of those discussions. 

“My story starts when I got an email from this potential student’s dad in the summer asking about the Bowdoin ski team,” Masland said. “This girl emails me and we meet August 30. We talked about the Ski and Ride club and this was the same conversation I’d had with people over the previous years. It was hard to get momentum going and three hours later I get an email from Alex saying ‘Hey, I called these four ski areas and I have talked to two people. What can we do next?’ At that point, I realized that this girl was pushing us to have a ski team. The ball was rolling at that point and there was no turning back.”
Fogarty is a former national level Canadian skier. Originally planning to attend a school with an NCAA ski team, Fogarty chose Bowdoin for its ski legacy as well as the opportunity to oversee a club team.

“I think the vision of having a collegiate ski team instead of an NCAA team is much more inclusive while still retaining the competitive qualities of an NCAA team,” Fogarty said. “It is great to give people the opportunity to be competitive or to start from scratch if they have never done it before.”

Fogarty and Masland planned to create a team that would compete in the Collegiate league, a competitive league with many members in Maine.

While trying to get this idea started, Fogarty and Masland met Frank Whittier ’82, an alumnus who had raced and coached the team until 1986. 

Like Chalmers, Whittier was really disheartened by the removal of the team in 2003.
“It is always sad when a school abandons a sports team,” Whittier said. “There are strong loyalties that are built up over decades. It was painful for a number of alums like myself who had great memories and strong ties with Bowdoin skiing. I remember running into Alex and Duncan in early November of 2009 at Sunday River at the top of the hill. We [ski alums] wanted to show them some support. We also tried to introduce them to alums that were still active. The idea was to try and energize Bowdoin ski alums and raise support for Alex and Duncan,” Whittier said. 

With support from alumni, Masland and Fogarty wrote a proposal stating the club’s goals and requesting a small budget, hoping that this bare-bones operation would sway the College’s position about alpine skiing. After being denied a charter by Student Activities, Masland realized that club had poorly timed their proposal:

“In retrospect it was terrible timing,” Masland said. “There was no money for it. It was tough but it made sense to cut a varsity sport that was expensive, small, and traveled across the country but the beauty of club level racing is that everyone competes and has fun. There is an alumni network that was pushed away when skiing was cut. This is a good way to show that Bowdoin is embracing its legacy.”

Despite being turned down, Fogarty and Masland decided to create Polar Skiing, a non-profit organization independent of the College whose purpose was to support alpine ski racing in Brunswick, Maine. By doing that and also gaining membership into the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association, both students hoped that this high level of professionalism would lend them credibility and convince the College to endorse the club. 

President Barry Mills gave the club his support this year after being impressed with determination and drive of the group leaders.

“If you go back far enough, you’ll notice that skiing has always been a club sport,” Mills said. In the ’90s it was made a varsity sport and then in 2003 we eliminated it—largely because there was not a lot of student interest and it was expensive. Interestingly enough, when it became a nonprofit and club, more students got involved. And clearly the lower intensity of the sport is attractive to students at a lot of different levels. It is a much more diverse group of students who are doing it and I think that is very exciting for Bowdoin. The model of sports where people can walk on when they have never done it before is great.”