Bowdoin alpine skiing posted strong results at the Sunday River Grand Slalom event last weekend, with two Polar Bears placing first in their respective divisions. Cooper Dart ’21 took home gold on the men’s side and Elizabeth Scott ’23 topped the podium in her first season of collegiate racing.
As the club’s regular season comes to a close, the women’s team sits in first place in its division and will likely claim a spot in the next few weeks in the team’s regional competition. The men’s team sits just outside of regionals qualifying contention, but Dart is a frontrunner to claim an individual bid to the regional competition.
The club alpine team welcomes skiers with a range of racing backgrounds. While many who choose to compete are casual skiers looking to get into racing for the first time, there is a sizeable contingent of elite skiers, Dart and Scott included, who have been racing since well before college.
“I started ski racing when I was, like, seven or eight years old, and did that … intensely all the way through senior year of high school,” said Dart.
In the world of competitive ski racing, athletes are forced to hyperspecialize and commit enormous amounts of time and money to the sport, even at or before the high school level. Between attending a ski academy, where tuition can rival many colleges, paying for pricey equipment and race fees and traveling around the country, the expenses can come to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Beyond the financial burden, ski racing demands an enormous amount of time. Pro hopefuls only have one or two months off from the sport in the summer, and nearly all athletes pursuing pro dreams take a post-graduate year after high school to hone their skills.
“Senior year, I was missing 40 days of school to train and race and do all of this stuff,” said Dart. “It was very intense and very different than what Bowdoin has.”
After years of giving their life to the sport, some athletes elect not to pursue the collegiate or Division I pathway for a variety of reasons including feeling burnt out, realizing they won’t quite make the cut at elite programs or simply electing to focus on academics. However, losing their competitive edge can be disappointing for those who have given so much to the sport.
“By the time you get into college, it’s really discouraging for a lot of young ski racers,” said Ava Jackson ’20. “They haven’t made it to where their ambitions wanted them to, and so I think the thing that’s really nice about club ski racing and this level of competition is that … everybody kind of gets back to their roots and remembers why it was fun to ski race in the first place.”
In many ways, the hallmark of the Bowdoin ski team is how it manages to cater to all of these different types of athletes—from those who have barely ever skied before to former high school racers who might once have had professional aspirations and still crave that level of competition.
“Obviously, we have people who have kind of spent their whole life racing and then some other people who really haven’t spent that much time skiing in the first place,” said Dart. “Negotiating that isn’t difficult, but it’s more of a question of, ‘how can we create spaces where everyone is feeling challenged?’”
That starts with the team’s race and practice schedule. Bowdoin practices twice a week throughout the winter at Lost Valley, a local mountain about 25 miles from campus, and competes in 10 regular-season races for a chance at a regionals or nationals spot in the early spring.
“There are some really, really great skiers in [our division], and there’s definitely competition if you’re looking for it, but everyone is pretty relaxed,” said Jackson. “Everyone wants to do well at the end of the day, and [everyone] wants to ski well, but I think for our team the first goal is to have fun.”
The team’s common thread is making sure everyone is enjoying themselves.
“Bowdoin really tries to be the team where you can really [race] however you do,” said Dart. “[We just] have fun … being out there [skiing] is the best thing that’s ever happened.”