For Don Jones, it’s all about speed.
Skiers in the giant slalom can reach harrowing rates of up to 50 miles per hour, but for Jones, faster is better.
The captain of the Ashland-Medfield co-op ski team lost just one regular-season race last season. At the state meet last March, he finished sixth in the slalom and third in the giant slalom.
Jones, 17, won the Central Mass. Competitive Ski League once again this season. As he heads into the state meet Tuesday, March 6 at Berkshire East in Charlemont, Jones hopes to turn on the jets.
“Donnie is more aggressive on bigger hills, where he can let his speed show more,” said Ashland-Medfield coach Nancy Schlussel.
“He chooses a straighter line and lets his skis run. That allows him to go faster and hold on to his balance, while some folks will scrub and slow down, he stays loose and performs well in any conditions.”
In layman’s terms, that means Jones is aggressive enough to toe the line between going as fast as possible and taking a fall or missing a gate during competitions.
But this well-rounded athlete, who also stars on the football and baseball team at Ashland, is far from an adrenaline junkie.
Rather, Jones is both meticulous and methodical in his preparation for each race.
He explains that he’ll begin training with a slow, wide line in the morning, and then straighten it out later in the day. Jones actually begins his process before he even clips into his skis.
“I try to use the same mind-set from competitive sports to transition into ski racing,” said the 5-foot-11-inch Jones.
“I get into my mode on the drive [to the mountain]. During inspection time. I look up closely at the course and look for the best, straight lines. I’m always looking to find that delicate balance where you can go as fast as possible.”
Jones is able to analyze ski lines and make adjustments like a seasoned veteran because he’s been racing since he was four years old.
The child of two passionate skiers who met at a ski retreat on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, Jones remembers getting his first pair of Atomic skis at the age of two and following his father down small hills on a leash.
A few years later he was competing in National Standard Race ski races on a time-trial basis and placed first in the under-10 Bronze division in an event in Steamboat, Colo.
Jones said that success inspired him to join the local Wachusett Mountain Race Team, a nonprofit parent-run organization that allows junior skiers to compete in races run by the United States Ski and Snowboard Association.
Taught by certified, experienced coaches, Jones said he learned how to be aggressive on race day.
“A lot of starts when I was younger,” Jones recalled, “coaches said, ‘If you’re not falling, you’re not trying.’ There is a fine line between speeding and crashing, and you want to find where that straight line is without missing a gate or falling.”
And Don isn’t the only skier in his family who’s ahead of his time.
His younger sister, Elaine, finished second overall in the Central Mass. Competitive League as a first-year student on her brother’s coop team.
The siblings ramped up as the season progressed, placing either first and second in their final four races Jan. 25 and Feb. 1. And with Don leading by example as a senior captain, the team earned the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association sportsmanship award for the season.
For Elaine, 15, competition on the slopes has come naturally: She’s been skiing with her family since the age of two, then excelling with the Wachusett race team for several years.
“I’m thankful that [Elaine] is a little bit younger,’’ said Don Jones, “because I think she’s a better racer than me.”
While Elaine is appreciative of her brother’s help with the mental aspects of racing, she maintains that she has her own process.
“It’s my mental game and I do my own thing,” said Elaine. “I like to listen to music, zone everybody out, and once I’m up on top of the course I visualize the whole thing, moving my hands down the line while I think of the possibilities.”
In her first year at Ashland High, Elaine is already planning to become a doctor and said she’s considering how to best focus her summers towards that goal.
Don said he’s narrowed his college search to either UConn, where he could join the ski team, or Purdue, where he would pursue his passion for speed by majoring in aerospace engineering.
Yet even if he gives up competitive skiing to attend a college in relatively flat Indiana, Donplans to follow the family tradition and never abandon the slopes.
“Every sport has its different aspects,” Jones said. “Football comes with a better sense of brotherhood, but when it comes to skiing, I know it’s something I’ll do the rest of my life.
“What skiing comes down to for me,” he said, “is that it’s a lifetime sport. And that’s where the passion comes from.”Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.