Some might argue that team ski racing is the ultimate oxymo-
ron. After all, how can an individual sport be manipulated to fit into
a team format and still preserve the essence of the sport?
Further complicating the issue is that ski racers have been trained
since infancy to take all possible risk to get to the finish as fast as
possible. The average J1 and J2 racer might stuff 40 starts into
a season, and since only two finishes in any one discipline are
needed to establish a point profile, why hold back? As a matter
of fact, most junior racers aren’t familiar with any gear other than
overdrive. But the game changes as soon as that racer puts on
the colors of his or her respective team uniform.
After coaching the local Woodstock High School boys’ and girls’
teams through the recent Vermont High
School Championships, and then following
the NCAA Championships at Stowe, I’m re-
minded of just how exciting team ski racing
can be. For sure, it’s different, but it’s good
for the fans, a learning experience for the ath-
letes, a pressure cooker for the coaches, and,
ultimately, a bonus for the sport.
Back in the days when I skied for Middlebury
College, I can’t say that I recalled coach Bobo
Sheehan ever suggesting that I should slow
down just to stand up. Maybe I wasn’t listen-
ing, or perhaps it was because I generally ran early in our running
order, before the DNFs started to accumulate. But if I found myself
on the side of the course, picking the snow out of my ears, it was
a heavy burden.
The nordic skiers often joked: “We busted our butts for nearly
an hour, and look at you. You can’t even go 60 seconds without
screwing up!” Yes, this banter was all in jest, but I soon learned
when to stomp on the gas pedal, and when to give the course
some respect. Tactics became a permanent part of my ski racing
The need for tactics becomes particularly paramount every time
the NCAA championships are contested. It’s a punishing scoring
system, with virtually no margin for error. Up to three racers in
each discipline can qualify for each team and all three must count
if the team harbors any thoughts of bringing home a champion-
ship. This is the equivalent of the NCAA March Madness basket-
ball tournament being played with a total of only four players per
The absurdity of the system is a subject for another story, but
those are the rules and the teams must adapt. This time around,
the University of Colorado team played the game to perfection.
The format may not be appropriate, given the fickle nature of ski
ance agents,” those who may have to ease off the gas pedal in
order to get to the finish unscathed.
racing, but it creates high drama for the media, skills for the ath-
letes that will serve them well in all competitive endeavors, and
pressures that will permanently destroy the digestive systems of
even the most composed coaches.
After surviving a pair of state high school championship events,
I can appreciate the task of those NCAA coaches and athletes.
Even though teams are allowed six racers with four to count for
team scoring in high school racing, tactics are still of prime impor-
tance and I make no bones about it to the athletes. We have our
“gunners,” early runners who vie for a top finish, and our “insur-
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