Alpine skiing bands togehter, finds success with club program

Pamela London

In the wide world of Whitman College sports, there’s a little something for everyone–from the serious athletes who compete on varsity teams to the students who want an outlet to hang out with friends and play intramural, options always abound.

One sport in particular, however, brings the two extremes together: alpine skiing. The Whitman alpine ski team is officially a club sport, but these athletes practice and compete with the intensity and focus of a full-fledged varsity team. After being cut from the varsity program two years ago and tragically losing its coach, Richard O’Brien, last spring, the skiers have bonded together to keep their program alive and successful.

“The Whitman students and professors were extremely supportive,” said junior Torey Anderson. “[They] really made the ski team feel like a special part of the Whitman community.”

The skiers practice and compete in the giant slalom and slalom disciplines as part of the United States Collegiate Ski Association (USCSA). Slalom is the more technically challenging race with gates placed closer together, while gates in the giant slalom are more spread out to test the skiers’ pure speed.

Practicing twice a week for over five hours at a time and traveling to competitions on the weekends, Whitman’s alpine skiers are just as committed to improving and winning as if they were still a varsity sport.

“[Team] members are spending as much time practicing and traveling as many other varsity sports teams on campus,” said first-year Mattie Hogg.

After the alpine ski team was dropped from varsity classification to club due to funding reasons, the team was unable to pay for a full-time coach. This season, Whitman is led by Anderson and junior Chris Machesney, both of whom have racing backgrounds and serve as the team leaders.

Machesney was recruited to Whitman by the ski team when it was a Division I program, and realizes that attracting prospective skiers to Whitman is now more difficult with the change to club.

“Due to the nature of the sport, [skiing] is not very popular on campus,” said Machesney. “Unlike virtually every other sport … skiing lacks the ease of viewership. In order to watch a ski race people would have to travel a minimum of four hours, which is hard and rather expensive.”

Even with the budget constraints, club sport title and difficulty in establishing a strong fan base, Whitman’s alpine skiers remain focused on the task at hand: to represent Whitman by winning and getting better each day. That commitment demonstrates the vitality of the program, and encourages the skiers that the team is headed in the right direction despite everything it has gone through.

“Everyone has seemed to be very pleased that we have made the club switch work and have still found success doing what we love,” said Anderson.