When the Concord-Carlisle Alpine ski team descends upon its home base at Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, the Patriots do so with a squad numbering 67 strong, one of the largest high school contingents in the region.
Thankfully, second-year coach Amy Brooks doesn’t have to manage the masses on her own, instead getting a big assist from five senior captains and three assistant coaches to help tailor practices for skiers with various levels of racing experience.
The Patriots have managed to balance their state-qualifying aspirations with an inclusive culture. Challenging for a top-three finish in the Mass Bay West League is just as important as ensuring all 67 skiers are empowered to socialize and compete.
“It’s a lot, but it makes it really fun,” said senior captain Susannah Snell of the roster size.
Snell leads the girls’ side with Sarah Creamer, a returning Globe All-Scholastic, and Julia Fortier. Sophomore Siena Triola, like Creamer, is a returning league all-star. The boys are captained by James Carleton and Henry Allen.
In their opening competition Saturday at Nashoba Valley, the boys won their meet against Lincoln-Sudbury, while the girls went 1-1, conquering Notre Dame (Hingham) and falling to L-S.
On practice days at Nashoba, Brooks will group skiers of different levels and genders, with each cadre led by a captain.
The more experienced racers learn by teaching, and the novice ones soak up their expertise. Captains focus on ski fundamentals, and also techniques to handle the shorter, quicker turns of a slalom race, as well as the wider turns of the giant slalom.
“I give [the captains] ideas of what drills to work on but they’re allowed to morph that,” Brooks said.
Brooks was also quick to laud her trio of assistants: Andrew Callen, Hope Beckman, and Greg Marshall.
The Patriot boys finished fifth (out of 12 teams) in Mass Bay West last year, and the girls ended sixth (out of 13). Brooks believes both groups have the potential to challenge for a top-three spot this year.
Thankfully, race structure is a bit different from last year, when COVID forced a cancellation of the MIAA state meet. So far this season, teams have been allowed to race the customary six varsity and six junior varsity racers. Last year, team’s were afforded six racers total.
Skiers such as Creamer are eager to compete again at the state level. She was sixth in the state slalom as a sophomore. When she’s not working with the C-C team, Creamer coaches the U-12 racing team at Bromley Mountain in Vermont.
Skiing isn’t even Creamer’s primary sport. She’s also a returning Dual County League All-Star in soccer and lacrosse, and plans to play the latter at Hamilton College after graduation.
“I definitely have the most fun on the ski team because of the social aspect and the competitive aspect,” Creamer said.
All five captains play other varsity sports, but they advertise the ski team as an option for anyone at C-C.
“It’s a social team and a varsity team,” said Fortier, also a goalie on the lacrosse team. “It’s the perfect team if you’ve never played a sport.”
Team chemistry is forged right after Thanksgiving, when dry-land workouts provide conditioning before there’s snow on the ground. With her background as a three-sport standout at Bates — Brooks was an All-America soccer player and later coached at Swarthmore — the competition is creative.
The Patriots play tag, soccer, dodgeball, participate in fitness competitions, and conduct the infamous “Pine Hill Runs” — sprints up the hill followed, sometimes, by sledding races down. Outdoor activities are always preferable for COVID safety. The team even conducts virtual practices when required, complete with YouTube workouts, film study of top skiers, and of course, games.
“We’ve been forced to take a more creative and unconventional approach to some of our practices,” Allen said.
Brooks helps put together games of Pictionary, and “get to know your teammate” trivia. Zoom breakout rooms help skiers form personal connections within the group of 67.
“That’s one of my favorite things,” Carleton said of the virtual meet-ups. “Those activities are what create enthusiasm in the team.”
Hopkinton graduated a pair of Globe All-Scholastics in Jackson Schlussel and Catharine Barry, and Shawn Mato enters his first season as coach.
But Mato is optimistic about the Hillers’ future.
“My main goal was for everybody to get to know each other,” he said.
The Hillers will lean on returning Central Mass League All-Stars in Libby Herlihy (junior), Klara Niss (sophomore), and Jake Lacoche, a senior captain.
Other standouts include junior Mathias Niss, senior Avery Hutchinson, and captains Tori Fischer (senior) and Ally Barry (junior). Mato’s daughter, Lila, a freshman, is also on the team.
A 1993 graduate of the University of New Hampshire, where he skied for the Division 1 Wildcats, Mato also coaches at Franconia Ski Club on Cannon Mountain.
He and assistant Dan Barry have 22 skiers on the roster.
“I’m really just throwing them tons of different drills so they can get different feels,” Mato said.
▪ Success has been the standard lately for Hingham. The girls have won three consecutive MIAA state titles; the boys were ninth in 2020.
Hingham was limited to its home venue, Blue Hill, for the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, but the Harbormen are excited to branch out to different slopes this year.
“You could feel the energy and the buzz,” coach Lisa Vialle said of her team’s opening race at Ragged Mountain last Saturday.
Team captains, Charlotte Sullivan (senior) and Samantha Chapin (junior) for the girls, and Robert von der Luft (senior) and Zach Federman (senior) for the boys, lead the way.
A former ski captain at Hingham (’2010), Vialle played golf at William Smith College and is eighth year with the program, but first as head coach after assisting Audrey Knight for seven years.
On the less snowy days this season, the captains often lead a drill called “human slalom”, which involves conditioning on the high school turf. Vialle credits her captains with team bonding duties.
“They’re incredible leaders on and off the snow,” Vialle said.
▪ The MIAA Alpine Championships are scheduled for March 1 at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton. The MIAA Nordic Championships are slated for Feb. 15, but the site is TBD.