Too little snow and too much snow are typically factors that negatively impact a high school ski season. This year there was another factor in the mix: COVID-19.
While the virus didn’t impact the actual ability to ski races in a somewhat normal fashion, it did limit the number of skiers allowed to race each day and sent all of Section 1 to share Thunder Ridge. So that scheduling difficulty plus several snow days late in the season equaled a short season when the best fresh snow seems to be falling every few days.
“In regards to the rewards of the season, we have all been extremely happy with the snowfall this year,” Scarsdale senior captain Jackson Dean said. “It has provided us plenty of flexibility when scheduling our practices, but also it’s nice to ski on genuine snow. Everyone on the team is happy to even have a season this year, and the conditions have made all of our preseason work pay off.”
Captain Cole Zoland lamented so much about the season, including the inability to hang out with many of his friends in the other cohort, not being able to eat pizza as a team on the bus and the lack of skiing opportunities overall. At the same time he was thrilled to have a senior season.
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to have a ski season at all, so I’m really thankful that we did,” he said. “Obviously, this has not been the senior season that I had imagined, and there have definitely been times where I’ve been frustrated with all of the rules and guidelines we’ve had to adopt. But, as annoying as they are, I know that they are important. And with how [cruddy] the last year has been, I’m just really happy to be able to do something that I love. I’m grateful to be racing, spending time with teammates and friends, and even running a mile during our dryland practices.”
Most teams got in one or two races — slalom only this winter — and the six required practices to qualify for postseason, though any skier who had to quarantine at some point of the season may likely have been a victim of bad timing and missed out.
“We were so fortunate to get the opportunity to race twice,” senior captain Caroline Cavalier said. “Going into the season, honestly, I was not very hopeful that we would get any racing time at all. At the races, we were lucky enough to feel safe — the mountain was not running at full capacity so only a couple of teams raced each other and we practiced social distancing/wore masks — while getting the opportunity to feel a sense of normalcy for the first time in a while.”
Scarsdale was lucky with its season in many regards between Thunder Ridge and Catamount, where the team raced one time each and ended up getting seven boys and six girls entered in the Northern League A championships set for Tuesday, Feb. 23. The top nine will advance to sectionals against the other two leagues two days later. Both races will be at Thunder Ridge.
The boys will send seniors Dean, Hayden Claussen, Tom Zosin and Dan Coplan, junior Jeremy Mann, sophomore Zach Berman and freshman Elliot Zhang to the league meet.
“We had a pretty strong boys team,” coach Pat Liu said. “Dan made it to leagues. He improved quite a bit. We have a new racer, Elliott Zhang, who races for Thunder Ridge. He’s a freshman and he made it to varsity. He’s a good racer, probably my No. 5. He just needs to learn how to become a little bit more consistent with finishing his runs. I think he shows a lot of promise.”
Overall the boys have a very veteran lineup. “The upperclassmen on the boys team have all grown so close together over the years, and it’s been truly amazing to watch everyone’s improvement throughout the journey,” Dean said. “With that being said, our veteran boys are all thrilled to be able to participate in such an extended season. For many of the seniors on our team, we will not have the opportunity to race after the season is over. Having these extra couple of weeks to work on our technique is really meaningful to us, and it’s a blessing to have the extra opportunities to prove ourselves.”
Claussen, a state qualifier last year, won both of his races this winter and is looking to win the section next week.
“I was so pleased with Hayden’s progress from last year and his improvement,” said Liu, who is not only Claussen’s coach, but his father, too. “His two wins for his two races were nice. I’m pleased with his performance and I think he’s got a good shot at the whole thing.”
The girls qualified seniors Cavalier and Jane Schmelkin, sophomores Ava Akbarian and Hana Pitchon, and freshmen Kay Fitzgerald and Sidonie Deharveng.
“Postseason/sectionals are always our favorite time since we get the opportunity to compete with our whole section and spend time with our team,” Cavalier said. “I hope that our team, especially the older members who are leaving this year, gets the chance to reflect on what a great season we had, even with COVID-19 restrictions, and make connections with the younger members so we can help them enter next season just as connected with each other as prior years.”
The girls have only the two seniors and were missing veterans Wilma Qvist, a junior, and Julia Assa, a sophomore this year.
“Caroline has really come up as a leader this year as a captain and my No. 1 racer,” Liu said. “Ava went to sectionals last year and races for Thunder Ridge. She’s really stepped up this year. Unfortunately she missed Wednesday’s race due to quarantine. And Jane is another one who really stepped up as a captain and she’s my No. 3. I am so happy she gets to go. She’s quiet and steadfast.
“Then I have a few new girls, like Kay, and she’s really picking up how to clear gates in slalom and she’s quite good. She can carve pretty well. Sidonie is a ninth grader who is going and that’s great. Hana is definitely someone who showed promised last year and I knew she was going to step up and she did. She’s ready to start learning how to clear gates. She carves beautifully so she is, I am sure, going to step up next year.”
Scarsdale also has trips to Catamount planned for Wednesday, Feb. 24, for an informal race against several other teams, in addition to a full-team trip on Saturday, Feb. 27. It will be a chance at one last hurrah for skiers of all levels, which is notable as there were no junior varsity of developmental team races this winter.
Like the senior captains, Coach Liu also worries about the team connection that was lost in the shuffle this winter. He hopes the team can bounce back and again be a force in years to come. Liu hopes each skier was able to be with enough old and new friends this season to bring them back next winter.
“With all the quarantines, all the strangeness with practices for cohort A, cohort B and no mixing and separate buses and lack of parties for the team there weren’t many ice breakers,” Liu said. “It was very difficult. I remember hearing from them when I spoke to them on a Zoom call, back in November, they said one of the most important things they loved about ski team was the sense of community… They didn’t get to build community as they normally do, so I just hope it doesn’t hurt us next year.”
Liu credited his six senior captains, Cavalier, Schmelkin, Dean, Claussen, Zoland and Noah Jaffe, for helping make the season a success, beginning with dryland training, which often took place over Zoom, to running normal captains’ groups to planning team merchandise to distributing lift tickets to helping the rookies with course inspection. “My captains are the backbone of the team, especially during the pandemic,” Liu said. “I can’t thank them enough.”