The Sochi Olympic Winter Games may be over, but the competition is just starting to heat up for a distinct group of student athletes at the University of Pennsylvania.
Four members of Penn’s Ski & Snowboard Team are packing up their gear and heading north.
Senior Laura Bustamante, juniors Iain Kuo and Clare Menzel and sophomore Sean Speers are traveling to Lake Placid, N.Y., for the United States Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Association’s National Championship March 9-15.
Alpine skiers compete as a team in slalom and giant slalom races. Their main objective is to cross the finish line faster than everyone else.
Snowboard refers to racers who compete as individuals in giant slalom races.
And freestyle covers both skiers and snowboarders who compete as individuals in the terrain park on jumps, rails and boxes.
During the regular season, the women’s and men’s Alpine teams took fourth and fifth place respectively in the overall season standings for the Conference, qualifying them for the Mid-Atlantic Regionals in mid-February.
Snowboarder Iain Kuo of Gwynedd Valley, Pa., is one of the athletes heading to the national championship. A junior economics major who took home the 2014 Conference Champion title in men’s snowboard giant slalom for the season, he’s also the team’s president and says every second counts in competitive skiing.
“The unique thing about ski racing is that the difference between placing first and last can be a matter of seconds, and often the difference between the top few racers comes down to hundredths of a second,” Kuo says. “A single mistake can easily cost you the race, so every turn matters, and thus being focused and prepared mentally is a huge factor in competition.”
Kuo’s parents put him on skis for the first time at age 3. At 12, he knew in his heart that snowboarding was much more “rad” than skiing and so he made the switch.
“I love going fast and the feeling of freedom and creativity that comes with being on the mountain,” Kuo says, “and perhaps more importantly the amazing people on the Ski & Snowboard Team who have become some of my best friends at Penn.”
Menzel, a junior philosophy major from New London, N.H., earned the bronze in the overall individual women’s Alpine ski racing at the regional championship and closed the season with two second-place finishes at the Conference Finals. Menzel sees the team as a family.
“Skiing is an inherently social and tight-knit sport,” Menzel says. “As a skier, you wake up at the crack of dawn and take a four-hour road trip with friends to voluntarily and repeatedly freeze together, while enjoying the greatest places and activity on the planet. You spend seven minutes on the ski lift, just to have that one run down hill."
Unlike other campus sports, the Ski & Snowboard Team doesn’t have any particularly intense, long-lasting rivalries with other schools in the conference. But, Kuo, admits, as in all things Penn, the team has a friendly rivalry with Princeton.
He says that, despite the competitive nature of their weekend ski trips, everyone is “very laid back and friendly,” and the ski team is all about having a great time.
“It’s always a fun atmosphere at the top of the race course or in the park, and it’s nice to make friends with like-minded students from other schools.”
Junior David Spivak is a philosophy, politics and economics major from Carlisle, Pa., and serves as the men’s ski captain. He’s active in the Penn Political Review magazine as its layout editor and in the Sports Club Council, Kite and Key Society and Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
Spivak wanted two things when he went to college: a green urban campus and an active student body. He found both at Penn, along with a group of incredibly supportive people that make up the Ski & Snowboard Team.
“Whether it’s on the slopes or in the library, I can always count on my teammates, and I’ve become really close friends with many of them,” Spivak says. “And then there’s the added benefit of getting away from the busy city for a few weekends to get some fresh air, great mountain views and awesome skiing. You really can’t beat weekends away with great friends and an amazing sport.”
“The people and just getting out of Philadelphia every week with such a wonderful bunch and spending time with them on the mountain? You can’t beat that,” he says.
While the season is wrapping up, the Ski & Snowboard Team is always looking for undergraduates to join them. Their basic minimum requirement is that a potential member must be able to ski or ride down the mountain on his or her own. If a person can ski or snowboard, no racing experience is required.
“We pride ourselves on being open and inviting to all skiers and riders in the Penn student body, which makes for a really fun atmosphere for everyone who joins and comes on our ski trips,” Kuo says.
Registration for the team begins in September and typically ends in early October.