Alpine Ski Team Competes at Ascutney MountainBy Jonathan Shefftz
The men's and women's alpine squads of MIT's varsity ski racing team completed their fourth of five regular season race weekends on Saturday and Sunday, tackling the steeps of Ascutney Mountain in Vermont to earn some strong finishes although also some agonizing crashes.
Saturday's slalom started off with new snow falling from the sky, but the race hill remained pure ice, and an exceedingly "turny" second-run course only made the race more difficult.
The women's team turned in solid performances, with captain Brooke Baker '99 in 13th place, and Monica Taylor '01 and Marianne Okal '02 providing the other two scoring times. Lisabeth Willey '02 also put together two clean runs, with the women's team thereby finishing all four of their starters, for some enviably well-controlled consistent skiing and a seventh-place team finish far ahead of St. A's, Babson, NEC, and UConn.
The men's team seemed to follow the women's example for the first run, finishing six out of eight skiers. Carnage ensued on the second run, however, which left MIT with only two finishers: Todd Dumond '00 and co-captain Dan Zelazo '99. If a team does not have a full five finishers, it receives "ghost" times equal to the worst scoring time of any team's skier plus 10 percent. Normally finishing only two skiers would land a school in a guaranteed last place, but only one NEC skier managed to finish the course, so the MIT men limped into ninth.
The same unyielding conditions reappeared the next day for the giant slalom and caused Taylor's binding to prerelease, sending her on a collision course with a course pole, which resulted in a broken pole for the course and a temporarily injured knee for Taylor. The rest of the women's team nevertheless skied solidly to take seventh place as usual, with Baker in 10th for the individuals, and the other two scoring times from Okal and Willey.
Half of the men's team turned in their best giant slalom performances ever, with scoring times from Brett Vasconcellos '99, Dumond, Sanjay Raman '01, and Zelazo. Unfortunately, of the other four MIT starters, two crashed, and the other two encountered difficulties that did not allow them to take their second run. Therefore, once again the men did not have a full five finishers. NEC also did not have a full five finishers, but nipped MIT by 1.2 seconds, which translates into 15 hundredths of a second on a per-person, per-run basis.
Each weekend competition consists of two runs each on a slalom course on Saturday (quick, short-radius turns) and a giant slalom course on Sunday (longer-radius turns at higher speeds), with each day's two runs added together to determine each skier's finish for that day. The times of the fastest five men and the fastest three women determine the team standings for each squad. Each team's standing for each day is then cumulatively added together to determine season standings (e.g., a team that finished first each time after eight races would have eight points, whereas a team that finished second in four races and third in the other four races would have 20 points).
MIT competes in the Eastern Collegiate Ski Conference's Osborne Division, which contains the second-most competitive collection of NCAA teams in the Eastern U.S.: Boston College, Plymouth State, UMass Amherst, Smith (for women only), Babson, St. Anselm's, Brown, Colby-Sawyer, New England College, and UConn. Since NCAA skiing competition is non-divisional, skiing is one of the few sports in which MIT competes against Division I and II schools, in addition to its more typical Division III rivals.
The women entered this weekend seventh in the cumulative standings. The men entered the weekend last out of ten teams: despite usually finishing between eight and ninth (and almost never tenth), the men would often beat a different team each race. Nevertheless, they were close to catching up with New England College, with whom they tied the previous season for seventh place. Strong finishes for the weekend required sound technical skiing, as Ascutney's course is one of the steepest in New England: although Ascutney is not known for challenging terrain, it runs races on its steepest trail, which inevitably is always a sheet of unyielding glare ice.
Adding to the excitement of the team standings was Baker's bid to win a berth at the championships of the separate Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Conference, which in turn serve as the qualification route for the NCAA National Championships. Based on the individual standings after the first three races, Baker was on track for the EISA Championships. This solid performances at Ascutney should clinch her berth.
Smith College sponsors the final regular season race at Berkshire East, Mass this weekend. The women have cinched seventh place out of 11 teams, although the men remain mired in 10th. Baker also looks to have cinched a qualification for the EISA Championships, although the official preliminary standings are not yet available.