Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. Or rather, step into your skis. After an interrupted 2020 NCAA championship, a scattershot 2021 schedule mid-pandemic, and an uncertain start to this season thanks to the newest variant, the time has at last come for a triumphant return to form for the EISA. The 2022 carnival season is upon us!
The league’s thirteen mighty alpine teams will come together this Friday and Saturday, January 14 and 15, up at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, for the Colby Carnival.
Before we get into this season, let’s take a quick look at where we left off. There was no full EISA season last year, but five teams did manage to compete at the few carnival races that still managed to make it onto the calendar: the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University, Saint Lawrence University, Boston College, and the University of Vermont duked it out through a four-carnival season, plus the UNH-hosted NCAA championships. Because of the shortened competition season and the smaller field, it’s hard to get a sense of how last year’s results might impact this year’s season. Looking further back to the 2020 season, however, and we might get a better sense of where the EISA was at before everything, as it were, hit the fan:
The overall winner of the EISA championship (men and women, alpine and nordic) was UVM, which ripped its way to gold with the help of the lightning quick Marina Vilanova, Josefine Selvaag, Jagge Lindstoel, and Mathias Tefre. Vilanova, Lindstoel, and Tefre, now juniors, will be out there this year representing the Catamounts once more. Lindstoel was also named EISA rookie of the year in 2020 and is surely one to watch at the Loaf this weekend. Selvaag has traded the big cats for a big bird and will be representing the University of Utah this season.
The 2020 season’s team awards (recognizing performance in both alpine and nordic events) went to the Dartmouth Women’s team and the UVM men’s team. The Dartmouth women’s team was anchored by Claire Thomas, Tricia Mangan, Abi Jewett, and Gwen Wattenmaker. Claire Thomas, like the rest of the Dartmouth squad, did not race for Dartmouth last year because of COVID restrictions but will once again don the Big Green Coat for this season—this time, as a graduate student! Wattenmaker, now a junior, will again race for Dartmouth this season. Mangan has graduated.
Another standout skier from 2020 is the women’s rookie of the year, Ali Nullmeyer of Middlebury, who is currently representing the Panthers and the EISA in the World Cup circuit!
While the field may look different and much of the competition may be new, mountains are mountains and ski racing is still ski racing. Athletes are chomping at the bit for the opportunity to get back out into the snow and do what the EISA does best—go really fast, downhill. The coaches, for their part, are equally stoked to be back in the swing of things. Head Coach Kelsey Gura of Williams pointed out to me that with the strange momentum of 2020 and 2021, there are quite a few skiers “who are only just learning about how Carnivals are scored, why finish rate is stressed so much, and what it means to compete as an actual team.” After all, even for the teams that raced last season, this is the very first full carnival for not one but two classes of skiers. You just can’t replicate the team carnival dynamic anywhere else. Coach Levine also added that it’s special for the Williams squad to get to have their first carnival of the season at Sugarloaf of all places—“Narrow Gauge is the greatest trail in the east.”
Eric Harlow, Head Coach of Colby Alpine Skiing and the host of this race, couldn’t agree more. He stressed his pride for Colby to host the first carnival after all this time and, of course, that there “couldn’t be a better place” to race than Sugarloaf.
For Trevor Hamilton, Head Coach for the Plymouth State University alpine squad, this carnival season is even more meaningful after PSU’s experience last year continuing to race in EISA competitions amidst the pandemic. The “enormous amount of extra effort” that the 2021 season entailed, with coaches and athletes alike held more accountable than ever for their safety and health, gave way to a fall preparation period that felt “more normal,” complete with the opportunity to travel for some on-snow training before the arrival of winter in New England. At the end of the day, Coach Hamilton emphasized, “ski racers are resilient and tough by nature.” Unforeseeable challenges and graceful recovery from mistakes—it’s all part of the game. “In the end, it’s often the cruel simplicity of our sport that transcends all of the other things in life, now just as in the past. Once you put your poles over the wand, the fastest skier wins the race. That’s one thing a Pandemic can’t take away!”