Tigers ski team preps for rivalry matchups at state championships in Aspen on Feb. 25-26 | SummitDaily.com

Tigers ski team preps for rivalry matchups at state championships in Aspen on Feb. 25-26

The Tigers have been here before.

On Feb. 25-26, 18 alpine and 13 Nordic skiers on the Summit High School ski team head to Aspen for the Colorado High School Ski League State Championships. It’s the big show for scholastic ski racing in the Centennial State — a much different beast than the separate and year-round ski club scene — and Summit athletes are hardly strangers to the limelight, with two team state titles in the past five years alone, plus a slew of individual winners in both disciplines.

So, the Tigers skiers have competed and dominated at the highest level. But every season brings a new batch of rivals looking to dethrone historically strong clubs, and that means just about every Summit skier enters the state gates with a target on their backs.

“I’ve been feeling pretty strong lately, and I think we’re set up really well to peak out performance in the next few weeks,” said senior Ruthie Boyd, one of three captains for the Tigers Nordic squad. “That’s really the most exciting time of the season for me. It’s the part we all work for.”

Now is also where club experience comes into play. This season — as with most seasons — the Tigers ski team is a mix of high-school only athletes and year-round club athletes. These students, including Boyd, train with local clubs like Team Summit Colorado and the Summit Nordic Ski Club to hopefully reach the highest levels for alpine or Nordic skiing.

The mix of club training and high school pride is a major reason Summit has been so successful historically, but it can also be a mixed blessing. Look at dominant sophomore Ezra Smith: She’s a SNSC veteran who has missed most of the high school season due to travel. It’s a requirement for an athlete trying to qualify for Junior Nationals and, beyond that, the U.S. Ski Team. She already made the cut for the former and has high hopes to earn a spot on the latter.

With potential future Olympians competing in a different realm, the high school coaches and senior captains have to fill the gaps.

“It’s been a long season and we’re prepared and ready to go,” said Jonathan Mocatta, head coach for the Nordic team. “It should be awesome out there. Most of these kids on the team are year-round athletes, just excellent athletes. The high school offers the club kids a chance to actually ski for the school and get glory with that state championship. It’s a huge deal for these kids.”

Uphill battle

But history doesn’t win championships, and the Tigers have a hard road ahead at the state races. First comes cross-country rivals Battle Mountain, a team that’s dominated the alpine and Nordic races all of this season — and most of the previous one.

“They’ve been the team to beat this year,” said Karl Barth, who manages to find time in his busy girl’s rugby schedule to coach the Summit alpine team. “They won last year and haven’t let off much since then. It’s interesting because this is Nordic and alpine, and, after we graduated a few of our best skiers last year, that gave us a young team on all sides.”

In terms of a state title, high school skiing is slightly different than most scholastic sports. The best teams have a mix of veteran alpine and Nordic skiers, who all work together to earn overall points for the team. Battle Mountain came out on top last year with a mix of strong seniors and even stronger underclassman — skiers who hadn’t yet committed solely to their club teams.

That doesn’t mean skiers have to choose one discipline or the other. Logan Ramsay, another Nordic senior captain with Boyd and fellow senior Rylan Miller, is competing in the “skimeister” category. It’s made just for students who race both Nordic and alpine — a funky arrangement for scoring but a prime opportunity for skiers who are good at endurance and technique.

“The high school Nordic team has been a huge part of my life for the last three years,” said Ramsay, who hopes to place top-three in the skimeister category after state. “It’s more like a family than it is a sports team. The ski teams at Summit High School are wonderful programs that I am so proud to have been a part of in my four years here.”

Along with personal goals, he and the two other captains have naturally fallen into roles as mentors for the young teams. Mocatta and Barth agree that both of their teams are relatively young, with more than a few absolute newcomers like Will Lewis, a visually-impaired member of the Nordic team who skis nearly blind and has still finished every race this season.

“We’ve had a lot of help to get some diversity on the Nordic team,” Mocatta said. “That’s what I’m most proud of this year. This really has been a fun season, with a mix of veterans and these newcomers.”

No matter how the season ends, the captains will remember their senior year fondly. Of course, a few podium finishes wouldn’t hurt.

“I’ve really been trying to help other people a lot this season,” Miller said. “For me, it’s my last season, and I’ve already made the cut for states. I just want to help other people who haven’t done that yet.”

Boyd agrees.

“It’s fun to be a leader on the team at races and at practice,” she said. “I really enjoy getting to know everyone else around me. I also like helping everyone learn about skiing, and that makes it more fun for me as a captain. It’s interesting to see the team progress.”

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