Ski and Snowboard Team Cool as Ice

    The temperatures dropped to a frigid minus 8 degrees during President’s Day weekend at Mammoth Mountain, where the UCSD ski and snowboard team competed in the all-day Board/Ski Cross race on Jan. 15. At the start of the day on the mountain, 40 members of the Triton team braved the cold and hustled to get on the lift to start competing against top teams from San Diego State University, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Long Beach, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and the University of Southern California, only to return that night and pack up their gear from the small two-bedroom house they cram into all season.

    Courtesy of Adam Crocker
    Triton Patrick Hess, a first year graduate skier, keeps a safe distance from his competitors as he earned fifth place in the slalom on Jan. 14 at the Mammoth Mountain Resort.

    The effort required to organize and pay for food, gas, lodging and lift tickets seems like a lot to the average college student who complains about the cold season in temperate San Diego and spends hard-earned money on dollar tacos in Tijuana. But for the UCSD ski and board team, this is just an average winter-quarter weekend.

    ‘Anyone who has heard of or been to Mammoth before knows that the drive and hassle is well worth it,’ senior snowboarder Derek Spalding said. ‘What I love most is that you can ride the steeps and drop the chutes off the top, ride fresh powder through the trees or hit up one of the top nationally ranked parks all in one day.’

    UCSD competes in at least six races during the season: one during winter break, four in winter quarter and one in the spring. The Tritons’ most recent was the Board/Ski Cross on Jan. 13-15, where they earned many solid finishes in each category, including second place in male ski slalom by senior skier and team captain Adam Crocker, fourth in male boarder giant slalom by senior snowboarder James Berkery, sixth in female boarders giant slalom by senior Tammy Herd and seventh in female ski giant slalom by junior captain Sarah Calaham.

    ‘We have had a pretty solid start to the season, with a strong showing by our snowboarders compared to previous years,’ Crocker said. ‘This is in spite of losing some of our best skiers from the past couple seasons, so we’re more optimistic about our prospects for this season than we were before the races started.’

    For scoring, teams are seeded by the captains in order from best to worst. The top five members make up the ‘A’ team, which is eligible to score points for the team, and the remaining players form the ‘B’ team.

    The races consist of two runs, and the combined score determines a rider’s final rank, with the exception of those who miss a gate or are otherwise disqualified, who are out of the race for the day and score no points.

    Aside from making 40 friends who all share the same passion for the sport, the rush from these weekend races are what the members live for.

    ‘The feeling I get when I link four or more turns in a row on a run is just sensational,’ sophomore snowboarder Zack Vickers said. ‘I can’t compare it to anything on earth.’

    While speed is a crucial component to a successful team, it also leads to greater risk of injury. In fact, two riders were already hurt this season: female snowboarder Lindsay Bonito broke her wrist and James Berkery had a bad fall in boarder cross and seriously injured his back.

    ‘I was carving down a run and caught an edge, then flipped in the air and slid into a ‘slow’ sign. It was gnarly,’ Bonito said.

    Due to San Diego’s inconvenient location in relation to snow and the early November deadlines for the national league, the Tritons instead compete in the Southern California Collegiate Snowsport Conference.

    The team isn’t able to hold tryouts; rather, the team captains interview prospective applicants wishing to compete on the slopes in the fall.

    The most telling parts of the questionnaire include years riding, home mountain, previous race experience (if any) and an open-ended question asking the applicant to describe their best day on the snow.

    ‘Most people on the team are just folks that grew up skiing or snowboarding and are passionate about the sport,’ Crocker said. ‘But we definitely do expect people to be advanced-level riders because we are a race team.’

    Despite the emphasis on having a good time, the competitive edge is an essential part of the Triton team, as they have nabbed first and second place in the league standings nearly every year, including last season, when they earned the second-place trophy, only four points behind their toughest competitors, the UCSB Gauchos.

    In order to be a high scorer for his team and accomplish his personal goal of becoming the first-place skier overall in the league this year, Crocker, like his teammates, keeps a close eye on his competition.

    ‘I try to run the course five or six times on the morning of the event to memorize the series of jumps and turns and figure out where the best places to pass people will be,’ Crocker said. ‘And I always check out the other skiers in my heat to make sure I know who my toughest competition is going to be and how I can box them off early in the race.’

    In fact, many on the team agreed that it is the Triton teammates who actually push each other the most.

    ‘Riding with people who are better than you is a catalyst for improvement,’ sophomore Jeff Compton said. ‘In years past, we have had members who grew up in Tahoe who were amazing skiers. Following them around has made me a much better rider.’

    Nerves are high before every race, even for the most experienced riders, and finding the right focus early on — which can make or break a rider in the final results — can be a challenge.

    ‘The best and most nerve-racking moments are when you are lined up in the boarder cross gates at the start,’ Compton said. ‘You are next to three other guys, all generally staring down some feature in the run which you know all four of you can’t make it through all at once.’

    The Tritons hope for a storm sometime before their next competition, which will include a halfpipe heat on Jan. 27 and a giant slalom race the following day.

    Despite injuries, nerves and the lack of sleep and money, the UCSD ski and snowboard team makes the trek back to the Mammoth slopes every other weekend for two reasons according to Spalding: ‘Great friendship, and showing other schools that we may be the farthest from the snow all the way down here in San Diego, but we still know how to ride.’

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