Downhill Racers from UVA Magazine on Vimeo.
Distinguishable from each other only by the wild hues of their helmets and goggles, skiers and snowboarders queue up on Big Acorn—one of Wintergreen Resort’s most difficult slopes. There is brief discussion among the group about sharpening skis and the quality of the snow—“Kind of salty,” says Cody Dyke (Engr ’09), a captain of the Virginia Alpine Ski and Snowboard Team. A moment later, Dyke plunges through the starting gate for a trial run of the course, set up for grand slalom training. “There goes the test dummy,” another team member jokes.
For members of the team, it is axiomatic that there’s more fun to be had at higher elevations. And since it is UVA’s most popular club sports team, it seems clear that more and more students have arrived at this realization.
Based at Wintergreen, their Nelson County training ground 45 minutes from Charlottesville, the team is open to all skill and ambition levels. Nonetheless, this is a group that relishes competitive racing. Seventy-five of its nearly 300 members race during the spring semester, hitting the road nearly every weekend.
They have no paid coaches and no fancy timing equipment. Instead, they rely on each other for pointers. This year, the men’s and women’s snowboard teams placed in the U.S. Collegiate Snowsports Association’s mid-Atlantic regional championships and competed in the nationals in early March, where the women’s team placed fourth overall and the men’s team came in seventh.
The club manages to raise enough money to pay racing expenses. That means more students get exposure to competition, despite the high costs of the sport. “I think that’s the best thing about our organization,” says president Christian Hoehner (Col ’09), who caught the racing bug in high school, competing for Massanutten Resort as part of the Southern Alpine Ski Association. “A lot of other schools either make their racers pay for their hotels, entry fees and lift tickets, or are tied to their universities in such a way that they lose control over when and where they can train.”
Skiers outnumber snowboarders in the club, and a friendly rivalry exists. One is either a committed skier or a diehard snowboarder; there are few “crossovers,” according to Meggie McArthur (Com ’09), the club’s vice president.
“It’s kind of a personality thing,” she says. “Skiers are straight-laced”— a comment that draws loud objections from skiers in the queue—while snowboarders tend to be laid back, she says. Though McArthur learned to ski when she was 3, she discovered snowboarding at 12 and has never gone back. “Skiing is a lot harder to learn,” she concedes. “With snowboarding, once you get it, it’s a lot easier to get better.”
As a skier, Hoehner finds the technical aspects of the sport as thrilling as its striking natural setting. While others might find it odd to train endlessly for an event that is over in 50 seconds, he explains the rush of racing this way: “There is nothing else but you, your equipment, the hill and a ton of gravity. And it’s simple. Do whatever the hell you have to to go as fast as you possibly can around every gate.”