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MIT student blogger Joel G. '18

That wasn’t skiing, that was falling with style! by Joel G. '18

Guest post by Katy Kem '16

Hello everybody! My name is Katy and I’m a senior studying electrical engineering (6-1). Joel has kindly let me write a blog post for him about my favorite thing about MIT – the ski team!

For those of you who don’t know, at MIT the month of January is not part of the normal school year. Instead, we have Independent Activities Period (IAP). During IAP students can choose to take condensed classes, conduct research, work on projects, work at an externship, travel, or really whatever the hell they want. I prefer to spend the duration of IAP with the MIT Alpine Ski team, living in a cabin in New Hampshire, and skiing all day every day. Yeah, I’m pretty much living the dream.

I’ve always been a somewhat cautious person, or to put it another way, a total wuss. I avoid compromising situations, whether it be going to a party where I don’t know many people, or refusing to try a back dive off the board even when all the younger kids do it no problem. I guess you could say I have a finely tuned fight or flight (mostly flight) response. Freshman year, I avoided committing to extracurriculars, and the ones I did attempt didn’t really feel right. Desperate for something to distract myself from endless psets, I joined the Ski Team completely on a whim Sophomore Fall. I’d always enjoyed skiing growing up, though I’d never competed or formally trained in any way.

As Winter Break drew to a close and the start of the season approached, I began to panic. WHAT WAS I THINKING I CAN’T SKI RACE. I didn’t even really know anybody on the team! I had no idea what to expect. I’d already paid team dues, bought a race license, and two new(ish) pairs of skis though, one for each event I’d be skiing (slalom & giant slalom), so I was committed. Here goes nothing.

We only had 3 short training days before our first race of the season (my first race ever!!!), but luckily I had two incredibly awesome and supportive ski coaches to show me the ropes – Ben ’07 and JC ’05. Naturally, I picked it up immediately. I’m a bit of a skiing savant. I mean, just look at me shred.

Rule #1: Look good. Rule #2: Ski Fast. Rule #3: Safety Third

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAH JUST KIDDING I WAS TRULY HORRENDOUS. As a club sport, the MIT ski team accepts any confident skier, which means that at least half the team has little to no ski racing experience. We do have some people on the team who have raced previously and are pretty good though! (Shoutout to Mikey, whose body my head is subtly photoshopped onto above.)

The first race of my ski racing career arrived incredibly quickly – after only 3 days of practice and less than one day in actual gates (the things we ski around), I was deposited on the top of an icy race course at Okemo, scared out of my mind. I frantically texted my dad on the verge of tears, sincerely regretting ever signing up. Somehow I managed to get myself through the start gate. I have no memory of that first race, but I must have made it down in one piece. I may have been DFL (dead [redacted] last), but I’D JUST SKI RACED. I was so, so proud of myself.

If you want to get better at something fast, do it six hours a day, six days a week, for several weeks in a row. It’s hard to find words to describe how much better I’ve gotten at skiing since that first week. Let’s just say that I’m an unrecognizable skier. I obviously still have a long way to go before I turn pro (I’m so much better than them) (that was a Gnar reference I’m not actually better), but I’ve improved so much. Not without a lot of hard work though.

Every morning during the season, we wake up at 7:15 am, scarf down some eggs and oatmeal, grab our gear and head out the door. We drive to our home turf, Ragged Mountain (also Chris Peterson’s home mountain!!!), and we’re on the first lift at 9am. We ski for most of the day, doing some combination of freeskiing, drills, and running practice courses. With a break for lunch, when we eat grilled sandwiches (ALL HAIL THE GEORGE FOREMAN), we often ski ‘til the mountain closes at 4pm. We head back to the cabin, go on a run, and then do a core workout. Each night, a different team member takes a turn at being head chef and cooking dinner for the entire team. It’s a very important job – we eat a lot. The rest of the team tunes their skis, or just enjoys each other’s company.

Improvement took more than just hours spent skiing – it took falling. A lot. Lots of falling. Falling every day. I spend most of ski season with big, purple bruises on my hips. My first year on the team, I didn’t make it down back to back slalom runs all season. I fell every time. But each time I picked myself up and I put whatever gear back on I’d inevitably left strewn about the slope, and kept going. Ski team taught me how to fall.

One of my most spectacular wipeouts wasn’t during the season. Sophomore spring, some ski teamers and I decided to conquer the legendary Tuckerman’s Ravine – famous back country ski route in the White Mountains. We woke up early in the morning, strapped our skis to our backs, and hiked several hours up Mount Washington to get to the Tuckerman’s Bowl.

The hike up is worth the ski down

Johannes and Ben conquer the bowl

Climbing up that bowl was utterly terrifying. It was so steep I had to kick my ski boots into the face to make little ice shelves. Halfway up I started hyperventilating I was so scared. I eventually made it up to a spot flat enough to put on my skis. We hadn’t started our hike early enough, so by the time we got up there, the slushy spring snow had started to crust over with ice as the sun sank. I took one turn, hit an ice bump, my ski popped off, and I screaming tomahawked down the length of the bowl – at least a 20 second fall – before finally coming to a stop. When I arrived at Ring Delivery a few days later in my cute short dress, it looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to my legs. Score 1 Mount Washington.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the MIT ski team if we didn’t put our engineering skills to good use. Last year, then team Captain, Val (MIT ’15) and I decided we wanted to make a lightsuit, inspired by the Afterglow Lightsuit Segment video. (Watch it – seriously breathtaking). We bought a large black hoodie from Walmart, several LED strips, and a massive battery, and spent much of our free time that season sewing LEDs and sketchily soldering in the poor light. It turned out pretty awesome! We were a huge hit while night skiing at Pat’s Peak, and even took it to Beacon Hill in Boston for some street skiing laps during last year’s Snowmageddon!

MIT ski urban segment

We race in the McConnell Division in the Northeast, which is USCSA, and we have 10 races in the regular season – two per weekend. We race the tech events, which are slalom and giant slalom, and four of our races this year were FIS, which means we raced against great racers not in our league as well! It’s tradition in our league (and many other leagues) for seniors to dress up and race their final slalom race in costume. This year, 5 out of 13 of our racers were seniors, so we decided to do something extra special. We spent many hours hand sanding molds out of dense green foam, and pulled some pseudo all-nighters in the Edgerton Center thermoforming and laser cutting when we probably should have been psetting, but in the end it was all worth it. We took over Pat’s Peak by storm(troopers).

I’m Luke Ski-walker, I’m here to rescue you!

We race at a number of different mountains all over New England. They range from the tiny, T-bar served hill at Proctor Academy, to the notoriously steep & icy run at Whiteface – the same hill they raced on in the 1980 Olympics, affectionately called “IceFace.” As we travel all over the Northeast we make sure to do our duty and test and rank as many breakfast sandwiches at rest stops and ski lodges as possible. Make sure if you’re in New Hampshire you check out Jake’s Market and Deli’s “special:” egg, cheese, shaved steak & onion on a Portuguese muffin. To die for.

Skiing doesn’t end when the season ends! For spring break two years ago and this year, the majority of the team traveled to Lake Tahoe together, where we stayed and skied at Squaw Valley for the week. I just got back from this year’s trip last week, and it was probably the best skiing I’ve ever had. We had a pow day early in the week and got fresh tracks through the glades in several places, and finished out the week with a day skiing in our swimsuits at Heavenly (spring break wooo!) I also skied the scariest thing I’ve ever skied in my life. There’s a rock formation at Squaw called the Palisades, and it’s about a 10 minute hike up from one of the lifts. Between these rocks are a number of steep chutes. Somehow I let my teammates talk me into doing it. I stood at the edge, looking at the “slope” below. It was pretty much straight down! My heart was beating out of my chest. I gathered myself and went, and somehow by some miracle remained standing! I successfully skied the Main Chute of the Palisades! Hyped on adrenaline I decided to go again. This time, more confident, I decided to try to take a straighter line. I dropped in, with my teammate Sophia Wu dropping in in the adjacent chute at the exact same moment unbeknownst to me. We simultaneously fell, lost skis, and tumbled down the face. Of course, the one where I made it down there’s no footage to prove it, but there’s a full video of the one where I ate it. You can watch the spectacle below (I’m the one on the right).

Yes that’s me screaming, yes the sound carried to everyone on the mountain, yes I’m a tad ashamed.

Despite the wipeout, the Palisades were a big deal for me. There’s no way in hell two years ago Katy would have skied that.

Ski team has become such a huge part of my life at MIT I have trouble imagining what my college experience would be without it. During the season, all my worries fall away. I don’t think about psets or classes or grad school or jobs or anything – I eat, ski, sleep, and repeat. It’s like a month long therapeutic retreat. When I ski, I don’t think, my mind goes blank and I feel the icy wind on my face and the rhythmic turns. It’s pure joy. I’m not a very good racer, I will never be competitive in my league, but I don’t care. There aren’t many activities that are so inherently fun that even if you suck and fail you keep coming back for more with a grin on your face. The song that best describes my three years on the ski team is Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping.” I get knocked down, but I get up again. I’m so glad I joined the team on a whim and got over my fears to actually do it. It’s the best decision I’ve made at MIT, and I’m so lucky to have had this experience.

If you want to learn more about the MIT Alpine Ski Team, come say hi to us at our booth at CPW and Orientation!

Pew! Pew pew!