Culture of Alpine Ski built on co-ed community

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Arden Lillemoe

Skiiers take the lift up to the top of the hill at Buck Hill ski area in Burnsville during the meet.

Alpine skiing is cold and fast-paced. Skiers go down an icy path lined with pairs of plastic poles, situated on a snowy hill, they all go down one by one, their objective being to ski down the path through the sets of poles, or “gates”, with a faster time than the other competitors. The sport itself is not very team based, but team culture is still very prominent.

Fiona Rucker is a captain on Spartan Alpine Ski and has been aware of this culture since she joined the team as a middle schooler.

“So, at least my experience with it, was that it’s really welcoming. And captains, I think, all try to make the environment as welcoming and inclusive as possible for everyone joining,” Rucker said.

Rucker thinks that one large reason the alpine ski community is so accepting is due to the individuality of the sport.

“It’s a lot less competitive [than other sports],” Rucker said, “because skiing is a really individual sport, so you’re going down, and you’re doing your time, and you improve based on what you did last time.”

Rucker appreciates SPA’s ski team culture and has high hopes for her alpine ski experiences moving forward.

“It’s probably been one of the more accepting sports and fun times I’ve had doing a sport. I’m not super sad [that I have to leave SPA’s team], because I know that ski culture is pretty similar everywhere you go.”

Rob Thomas, a coach with a long alpine skiing history, is a relatively new head coach for Spartan Alpine Ski, but he’s already struck a good chord with its athletes.

“My coach does it because he likes it,” McKinley Garner said. Garner is a long-time skier and varsity athlete on Alpine.

“He’s not overly competitive, but also helps us push ourselves to do more stuff. I think he really kind of gets the spirit of the ski team, and he’s just here to make it a good time for everyone,” Rucker said.

It’s probably been one of the more accepting sports and fun times I’ve had doing a sport.”

— Fiona Rucker

Thomas has found the team to have the good community aspect that Rucker appreciates so much.

“I enjoy working with the SPA students and parents. It feels like a healthy and supportive community and that is important for sustainable programs. In my view, a healthy community is critical to any program, so I focus more on how I can create that environment within the areas that I influence, alpine skiing.” Thomas said.

As new athletes join and senior athletes leave, the team changes often, but this change doesn’t seem to affect the positivity and acceptance of its community.

“Each season is made up of different team members, so each season has its own life of its own. The most common thing I see is first-year members are usually quiet and nearly always come out of their shell by the second season,” Thomas said.

Thomas believes that having a coed team has made SPA’s alpine community as amazing as it is.

“I think my favorite thing about high school alpine ski racing is the coed composition of the teams. I believe this is the single most important part of the alpine ski team environment, community, and culture of an alpine ski team. I believe coed teams demonstrate stronger teamwork than non-coed teams, have healthier interpersonal relationships and are more supportive of one another,” Thomas said.

For a fairly new coach, Thomas has fit into the team culture easily and holds many of the same community-based beliefs as Rucker and many others.

“In the end, we are all out there to have fun. If that’s not working, adjust accordingly. I think that’s part of the cultural component.” Thomas said, “We are a varsity sport, but we can’t take ourselves too seriously or we risk burning out or not having fun.”