UMD Alpine Skiing club: Doing more with less

BY SAM GAZZOLA | The Statesman

This weekend, the UMD men’s and women’s alpine ski teams competed in slalom events at Spirit Mountain for a divisional tournament. The men came in second overall among 11 teams. The women placed sixth.

 Year after year, both teams have been able to find success.

They’ve been able to find continuous success even with less funding.

Compared to other schools they compete against, such as the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities), these deficits are portrayed clearly.

“The Gophers were able to secure a 20 thousand dollar grant, and that’s probably about two to three times as much as UMD gives our team,” said head coach Jason Grimm.

Without official recognition as a varsity sport, UMD’s Alpine Skiing team is relegated to club sport status. This means that each athlete has to pay for his or her own equipment, lift tickets and lodging at away races. Grimm said that a pair of skis alone can cost upward of $800, and that doesn’t even include bindings, which can cost $500. On top those, skiers have to buy their own boots, poles, goggles and race suits, driving costs well into the thousands.

UMD’s team competes in slalom, giant slalom, skier cross, freestyle events and even some snowboarding events. If racers want to compete in multiple events however, there are standards for each one that require different types of skis and pole. This doubles equipment costs for whoever chooses to do more than one event. The team has partnerships with Ski Hut and Continental Ski and Bike that help cut equipment costs for racers, but the prices are still well into the hundreds.

Ahnika Hesbjerg races through a slalom course at Spirit Mountain last weekend. BRENDON VIAENE/SUBMITTED

“It’s discouraging for you as a college student,” senior captain Trevor Pinewski said. “A lot of the kids don’t have funds to go to every single race or to pay for hotels.”

Pinewski explained that everyone has to pay for a lift ticket everywhere they go, which can cost up to $80 for a weekend. With the team racing almost every weekend from January to March, lift ticket prices themselves can reach into the hundreds.

The biggest financial risk for these athletes regards their own safety. If they ever crash and require a hospital, they have to pay that bill on their own.

The team holds fundraising events to help ease some of the monetary burdens like grocery bagging and selling T-shirts. Last year the team even set up an online donation page to help send racers to nationals.

Yet even without as much funding as other teams have, the Bulldogs have had a 12-year streak of reaching nationals, where the competition includes Olympians.

“We’ve sent a team, guys or girls, or both teams, to the national championships (every year) since 2004,” said Grimm. “There’s only one other school that can say that and they’re a fully funded program.”

This year the national tournament will be held in Lake Placid, New York. Pinewski, who has raced at nationals in the past, explained how different it is from a regular season race.

“It’s a surreal moment,” he said. “The competition levels are a lot higher, the hills are a lot bigger, the vertical drop is four or five times as much as it is here. That’s all another factor into intimidation.”

After this weekend’s divisionals, the team will travel to Marquette for regionals over Valentine’s Day weekend. Strong performances there will open the gates for nationals on March 6 through March 12.

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