The EISA alpine teams gathered today at Berkshire East in Charlemont, MA, for the Williams Carnival slalom (SL) races.
What a difference a day makes.
In the short amount of time it takes the Earth to rotate away and back towards the sun, the skies cleared, the temperatures dropped, and the density of Berkshire County’s snowpack increased.
(Although, technically, Berkshire East ski resort is in Franklin County. I know, it’s confusing.)
Everyone was relieved. Coaches were free to recuperate their sore muscles from yesterday’s vigorous salt-throwing efforts. Particularly fastidious skiers were carefree — no need to worry about the deleterious effects of NaCl absorption in finely ground skis.
But the day wasn’t without challenge. Berkshire East happens to be home to the EISA’s longest SL races. The main run is a broad slope that pitches to a merciless flat (Usain Bolt could probably run a 100m dash over its length) before rolling finally down a steep drop to the finish line. The course set invariably demands the maximum gate count, and finishing times are usually over — or at least around — a minute. In fact, today’s slalom race was longer than a lot of the GS races we’ve seen on the circuit this season. This leaves a lot of skiers exhausted at the finish. Some of them flop over from fatigue, a sight more familiar at a Nordic race than an alpine competition.
Dartmouth College was able to maintain their significant lead from yesterday. They handily won both the women’s and men’s SL races today, and finished the Carnival with 990 points (tallying both alpine and Nordic events). UVM took second with 910, and Middlebury College scored 756 for third place.
Paula Moltzan is 5-0 this year in EISA SL competition, which is remarkable. Like yesterday, she came from behind after first run to win the race overall. Her combined time of 2:05.75 was less than a half-second ahead of Dartmouth’s Foreste Peterson (2:06.19). Genevieve Frigon (2:06.74) of UNH had a breakthrough race for the season and rounded out the podium in third.
Frigon’s coach, Brian Blank, was relieved by the strong finish. This is the time of year when coaches and athletes begin to feel the pressure of trying to qualify for the NCAA Championships because after this week, there is only one more carnival.
There is no hard-and-fast formula that determines what results, specifically, an athlete needs in order to definitively qualify for the championships. But a rule-of-thumb is that she would need at least two solid top-10 results in a single discipline. Even better: a top-10 and a podium finish, which Frigon earned today.
“She needed today. Big time,” Blank said. “She’s only had one other result this year in slalom. She had a sixth [place], and her next best result was, like, a 23rd. She hasn’t been finishing a lot of second runs, so it was starting to get a little bit stressful in terms of qualifying for NCAA champs, but she needed to do it today, and she did. And she came in third, which was even better than she needed to do. She’s pretty happy right now, and so am I.”
For the uninitiated: The NCAA Championships qualifying procedure is convoluted, and I won't go into it fully. But it is worth stopping to talk a little more about it. Many of these race recaps highlight only the podium finishers, or maybe the top-5 in a race. And, many of these athletes hail from Dartmouth and UVM, the dominant EISA teams. But the finishes outside the ‘sea of green’ are important because each college or university can send only a maximum of three athletes to the championships. A school like Dartmouth might carry six of the top-twelve female skiers in the east, but only three of them can go to the championships.
So a finish like Frigon’s sixth place (which she scored at the UVM Carnival) didn’t get reported here, but it becomes important in the context of a podium run like today's. Though usually unmentioned, these are the combinations of races that shape the EISA squad sent out to Steamboat. There will be many names on the list of NCAA qualifiers that might be unfamiliar. But the fact is: they are accomplished skiers who have raced well and consistently — outside the limelight, just beyond the podium.
The winner of today’s men’s SL race, though, is one that should be familiar to many of you: Brian McLaughlin, a senior from Dartmouth, wrapped up his first pair of victories at a single carnival. He won the GS yesterday, and today he bested runner-up Erik Arvidsson of Middlebury by nearly a half-second, finishing in a combined time of 1:52.36. Arvidsson’s time was 1:52.79. Third place went to McLaughlin’s teammate, Thomas Woolson (1:52.92).
McLaughlin was pleased with his finish. He hadn’t yet won a race outright this season, so to do it twice in two days was something special.
“I’ve never done that before, which is really cool,” McLaughlin said. “I hadn’t gotten to the top of the podium this year, so it’s really cool to put two races together this weekend. Four runs, to make it happen.”
The second-place finisher, Arviddson — a first-year student — is inching his way to the top of the podium. He’s stood in third place already this season, and today he moved a step higher.
Middlebury Assistant Coach Abby Copeland knows that there’s more to come, and was complimentary of Arviddson’s run today.
“The guy is really serious. He is all business up there,” Copeland said. “He skied the upper section — both runs — really, really well, and then he just put the hammer down in the flats during second run. It was solid. We’re really psyched with where he’s at, and it’s good to know he’s right in there with everybody else.”
The pressure is on as the EISA regular season comes to a close next week. We'll head to Middlebury College for the final carnival and the EISA Regional Championships. Middlebury is a favorite of both athletes and coaches — it's known for its festive atmosphere and strong student turnout. Copeland is crossing her fingers that the weather holds out and allows a good race.
“We’re really excited. The gang gets really excited for Middlebury Carnival, and rightly so,” Copeland said. “It’s a really fun, positive atmosphere, and the school shows up in throngs to watch it. I’m just hoping for good weather next week, so we can have a good surface, so that we can have a nice good race.”