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Sports

BU Ski Racing Team: More Than Snow and Skis

Club offers a chance to compete against other colleges

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It’s 9:30 a.m. on a recent Saturday and when most students are still asleep or just getting up, dozens of ski racers from the BU ski racing team are already atop a mountain at the Sunday River ski resort in Newry, Maine. Many huddle together for warmth in the 15-degree weather. But despite the early hour and the frigid temperature, the mood is buoyant ahead of the first of two runs for that day’s race.

“At the top of the mountain, it’s a surreal experience,” says Brian Gomes (CAS’17), club copresident. “Everyone’s yelling and happy. Everyone’s a fan of everyone up there. We just want all of us to at least get past that first gate. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to experience in college, and I’m so thankful for that.”

Although a veteran skier, Gomes had never raced before coming to BU. Something he overheard made him decide to try out for the club team.

“I was actually hanging out with my friends from home in their dorm,” he says. “And I was eavesdropping as their roommate was talking on the phone about the ski racing team and the upcoming tryouts. I was like, that sounds pretty cool. So I tried out and loved it.”

The BU club dates back to the 1970s. The team, which currently has 32 members—15 women and 17 men—recruits each year at Splash, the annual September student activities fair. Tryouts are held a week or two later, with several e-board members interviewing potential recruits about their experience on the slopes.

Since there’s no way to judge a recruit’s ability on skis at that time of year, honesty is the key, says team copresident Alexander Bonatti (SAR’17). “We tell people from the start, either be truthful with us now or we’re going to find out anyway in the first race. Hearing that scares some people, and they tell us the truth. We even thought about bringing skis and other equipment and asking people trying out to put them on.” But they decided that was a little too much, he says.

BU Ski Racing Team cheering at Spirit Night

BU Club Sports awarded this year’s Spirit Award to the BU ski racing team (holding poles) during the annual Spirit Night January 25. Photo by Alexandre Michaud

About 15 to 20 students try out for the team each fall, but only about half make the cut. Those who join have to make a serious time commitment before ever hitting the slopes in January. Team members practice three times a week year-round at either Nickerson or New Balance fields, and each session involves cardio, leg, and core workouts, followed by a football or soccer scrimmage. And it’s not cheap. Annual dues, which cover transportation to and from each race, race tickets, and lodging, are $420.

Despite waiting until January to race, members say, it’s more than worth it. “Ski season is the best,” says Gomes, and being part of the club offers more than just a chance to compete. “My grades are actually better, I get away from Boston for a couple of weekends and do something different, and I get to be with some of my best friends. I get so excited for ski season, even if I’m not the best skier—it really is the best time of the year.”

The team belongs to the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association and competes in the Eastern Conference Thompson Division. During spring semester, the team participates in 10 to 12 races over 5 to 6 race weekends, contending against opponents that include Northeastern, Tufts, and Connecticut College, among other schools.

Races—for those who don’t know much about it—consist of two runs by each racer on slaloms and giant slaloms, both alpine skiing disciplines. A slalom course has between 50 and 70 gates, alternating pairs of red and blue poles the skier must pass through. The gates are close together, so skiers hit almost every one, and they go as fast as 40 mph. On the giant slalom courses, there is more distance between the gates, and skiers can go as fast as 60 mph, making it more dangerous, and for many, more exciting.

Alexander Bonatti ski racing downhill

Club copresident Alexander Bonatti (SAR’17) at a race at Dartmouth Skiway in Lebanon, N.H., January 28. Photo by Robin Leavitt

“My favorite memory came on a giant slalom,” Gomes recalls. “It was about two years ago. I felt like I was flying on the course—I was doing really well. I was three gates from the bottom, I had tinted goggles on, and it was snowing, so I couldn’t see very well. I went over a rut, and you want to be loose when you go over a rut and I wasn’t. As soon as I went over it, my feet went straight up in the air, and I almost did a flip. Right after that, the captain at the time came running up to me and said, ‘That was the best crash ever.’ While it sucked to crash, I’ve never felt better than in that moment.”

So far this season, the team has finished in the middle of the standings in most of the events they’ve competed in. But head coach Mark Westervelt, who took the post three years ago at the urging of his daughter, Allison Westervelt (CAS’15), a club member at the time, says the team has been successful in other ways.

Fundraising over the past three years has allowed the club to reduce annual dues by more than $100. And team members have also become more cohesive.

“In the past, there was a group that didn’t seem like they belonged,” says Westervelt. “That doesn’t exist anymore. They all just get along so well; they’re like a family—they see each other as siblings, without the fighting.

“We even won the club spirit contest recently,” he says. The Spirit Award was given on January 25 at the annual Spirit Night, when members of BU’s various club sports come out to cheer on the BU men’s varsity basketball team.

“Brian Gomes and Alex Bonatti have helped build a foundation that will keep this club around for a long time,” Westervelt says.

The Boston University ski racing team competes in its fifth race weekend of the season this Saturday, February 11, and Sunday, February 12, at the Jay Peak Resort, 830 Jay Peak Rd., Jay, Vt. Find out more about the event here.

Learn more about joining the BU Ski Racing Club by emailing Brian Gomes at brngms17@bu.edu or Alexander Bonatti at abonatti@bu.edu.

Emmanuel Gomez can be reached at mannygo@bu.edu; follow him on Twitter at @mannyqueso.

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