Tufts women’s ski team shows out at USCSA National Championship

The Tufts men's and women's ski teams are pictured. (Courtesy Tufts Ski Team)

Disclaimer: Annette Key is a former executive video editor of the Daily. Key was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.

For the first time in program history, the Tufts women’s ski team traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyo. to compete in the U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA) National Championship. The team competed in women’s giant slalom (GS) on Tuesday, and competes in women’s slalom today.

The 82-person team is represented by junior captain Sami Rubin, senior Taylor Hart, freshman Pippa Hodgkins, junior Olivia Wentzell and sophomore Annette Key. Each of the five skiers competes in both slalom and GS. 

Rubin explained the difference between the two alpine skiing races.

“GS is a wider radius turn,” Rubin said. “We end up going a little faster, around 40–50 miles per hour. Slalom is a more technical event and it’s a much shorter turn. It’s about 25–30 miles per hour.”

The USCSA encompasses club programs, like the Tufts men’s and women’s ski teams, as well as varsity programs across the U.S. In order to qualify for nationals, the team had to rank within the top five in the Eastern conference, which is a notoriously competitive division within the USCSA. At the Eastern Regional Championships on Feb. 23 at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, the team qualified for the national championships alongside varsity and club teams alike. The Jumbos placed fourth, determined by combining the times of the team’s top three finishers.

The team carried its momentum from regionals into the first day of competition at nationals on Tuesday. In the GS competition, the team placed ninth out of 21 teams with a combined time of 6:41.65, one slot behind local rival Northeastern. Rubin led the pack, finishing 22nd out of 73 competitors with a combined time of 2:09.1 between her first and second runs. Also included in the team’s combined time was Key and Wentzell, who posted impressive 2:12.15 and 2:20.36 combined times, respectively. Although the team is successful across the board, its greatest strength is the slalom, which they are set to compete in today.

This season marked the first year a Tufts ski team qualified for a national championship. While the men’s and women’s teams compete separately, the teams are close; they practice together, socialize, cheer for one another and share the same coach, Brent Talbott.

“We’re basically a coherent team,” Rubin said. “I consider my teammates to be people of all genders.”

Aside from its undeniable talent and strong work ethic, the team cites its sportsmanship as the secret to its successful season.

“When it’s time to race, we are really dialed in and ready to compete,” Key said. “We are competitive but super supportive of one another.”

The team believes that its positive energy helped carry them to nationals. During the regional slalom race, conditions on the slopes were particularly difficult. The howling winds and freezing weather caused the men’s race to be cancelled, but the women’s team persevered through the harsh weather. 

“We were feeling it — we were in it,” Key said. “We embraced the miserable weather and were, 100 percent, the most positive team.” 

Above all, the team is united by its passion for skiing. The skiers approach every competition as an opportunity to improve.

“We definitely look to be one of the teams having the most fun,” Wentzell said.

Regardless of Thursday’s results, competing in the USCSA National Championships is a major milestone for the Tufts ski team. Because it is a large team that embraces skiers from a broad range of experience levels, sending team members to nationals demonstrates the heights that the team can reach when its members work hard and take advantage of every opportunity.

Although competing in nationals is a highlight of the season, the athletes explained that the most fulfilling part of being on the team is getting to watch new team members compete for the first time. Competing in nationals is a dream come true for the program.

“It shows that we’re a good club team that can beat varsity teams,” Rubin said. “We don’t need to be a varsity team to be a significant presence in the Div. III skiing world.”