By Matt Gianni | Staff Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
The wind howls across Smugglers Notch as Otto VanDerhoef ‘22 smiles to himself atop the slope in a skin-tight racing suit, enduring freezing temperatures. VanDerhoef propels himself from the starting block down the course, quickly reaching breakneck speeds. He approaches a gate and shows no signs of slowing; instead carving his skis into the freshly groomed snow. Upon reaching the bottom of the course, Otto has a brief exchange with a coach who gives him a few pointers. Then he’s on his way to catch up with a teammate to ride the chairlift together before their next practice runs.
This is a pretty typical practice for the St. Michael’s College Alpine Racing Club, a club that’s only been around for the past two winters but has already started to make a name for itself.
“…Everybody’s there to just kind of, you know, train and have fun,” VanDerhoef said. “Yes, we do compete, but it’s at a less competitive level I guess than the NCAA team. It’s just not as much pressure.”
Although the club is only two years old, Angus MacLeod, head varsity alpine coach at St. Michael’s, said the idea of an alpine racing club had been floating around since at least 2014.
“We were getting a lot of interest from former high school racers who loved St. Mike’s and thought it would be a great fit, but didn’t see how they could keep ski racing and they wanted to do both,” he said. “It would be great to have another path for those people to continue to do it but aren’t quite at the level of the varsity program.”
The club also serves as a potential stepping stone for those who want to join the varsity NCAA team, but aren’t quite ready for competition at that level. Pat Flaherty ‘25 happens to be one of those athletes. “When I came here I didn’t know about the club, and I’ve loved being a part of it, but the NCAA team is definitely still the goal,” Flaherty said.
As for VanDerhoef and his fellow captain Joe Turner ‘22, they both had a history of racing before college, and both intended to continue during college. This led VanDerhoef to race for the school’s varsity NCAA team and Turner to race at the nearby training hill, Cochrans.
“In my college search, I was looking for schools with a club ski racing program,” Turner said. “I ended up just making the decision [to attend St. Michael’s] on academics and the campus, but that decision would have been a lot easier had there been a club program.”
Turner expressed that the program could greatly benefit admissions. He believes there are many prospective students in the country looking for a school with a high quality program that isn’t as rigorous as the NCAA, and that Saint Michael’s alpine club could provide that opportunity.
VanDerhoef, on the other hand, was part of the varsity ski team on campus for two years, before stepping down to focus more on academics. When he did, MacLeod approached him with the idea of the ski club.
“…Everybody’s there to just kind of, you know, train and have fun”Otto VanDerhoef ’22
“When I stepped down from the NCAA team, Gus told me right then and there that there would be a club program option the following year,” VanDerhoef said. MacLeod had been working side by side with admissions on bringing the club to fruition for the 2021 season, and with VanDerhoef and Turner at the helm on the student front, the club was formed.
The racing club competes in the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA) MacConnell division, which happens to be the most competitive club racing division on the East Coast.
This year has been the club’s first year racing as a part of the division, finishing the season with five athletes qualifying for the regional championship. According to MacLoed, since St. Michael’s already has an NCAA varsity program, none of the club skiers are eligible to compete in the regional or national club championship races despite having enough success to qualify. They are only eligible to compete in the regular season races. Turner and VanDerhoef both said they are impressed that their small group has already been able to make an impact on the racing scene.
About a year ago, Turner and VanDerhoef were faced with the task of recruiting athletes to carpool together to a mountain that was 45 minutes away from campus during a global pandemic, which turned out to be no easy task. With a small but mighty roster of five for the majority of the season, the club was restricted to training and racing entirely in-state. Turner noted that waving the Saint Michael’s flag at the bottom of courses across the state was probably doing just as much for admissions with potential ski academy students as it was for team morale.
St. Michael’s Alpine Racing Club is accessible to racers of any skill and level of commitment. VanDerhoef and Turner both agree that the club has something for everyone, whether it be those who still want to race competitively without the pressure of the NCAA team, those who don’t want to race but just want to run gates once or twice a week, or anywhere in between. The club fee of $300 for transportation, races, training, and ski tuning is a far cry from most season passes alone, which can range from $500 to $1,500.
The club offers practice times every day of the week and competes most weekends during the winter all across New England.
Since the 2021 season, the club has doubled in size from five to 10; a feat that the captains said they were proud of. Turner, VanDerhoef and MacLeod all agree they still would like to see the club grow more in the future.
“Right now it’s just numbers,” Macleod said. “I know the guys’ side was fielding a whole team to score us at USCSAs for the MacConnell division, so definitely getting a few more women on that program would be nice.”