PITTSFIELD -- You heard the skiers before you saw them.
With the top of Bousquet Ski Area shrouded in fog, the click-clack of gates reached your ears before the competitors came into view during the final regular season slalom race of the year on Monday. That low visibility -- and a final chance to qualify for the state championships -- meant safe, not speedy, was the preferred strategy.
"It's really foggy, a little scary," said Monument Mountain's Trent Pfeiffer. "You got to deal with it, I guess. ... That made it easier to just play it real safe."
Pfeiffer booked his ticket to the state championships at Berkshire East Ski Area, finishing second in 43.05 seconds to Berkshire County champion Eamon Connor of Taconic. Connor won his fifth race of the year in 40.24 seconds, helping the Braves to boys and girls team wins. Emma Peplowski, skiing for the Pittsfield/St. Joe co-op team, earned her second win in the girls race with a time of 44.63. That clinched the county girls title for Peplowski. The Monument boys and Taconic girls each won county championships as well.
"I was struggling [in the fog]," Peplowski said. "If you just focus on the gate right in front of you, you can make it."
While both Connor and Peplowski could afford a tumble on Monday, several skiers needed to get a second slalom finish in to book their tickets to the state meet. Skiers need at least two complete runs in slalom and giant slalom to advance. The Braves ended up qualifying six girls for states, but three -- Lauren Jones, Maria Giacoletto and Michaela Craft -- needed to reach the finish on Monday. All three got exactly that.
"The visibility was low," Jones said after finishing second. "Keep your hands up, keep your eyes open. I had to get a finish tonight. It feels really good."
Having six racers at states will give the Braves a real chance to compete on Feb. 26. Teams take their three best scores, so there will be room for error. Taconic is also sending Alyssa Latimer, Amanda Ely and Lindsay Curry. Together the Braves swept the team scores in all six county races this season.
"With all six, that's just awesome to have so many talented girls go in there," said Braves coach Marc Latimer.
Pittsfield/St. Joe will send Emma Pizzuto and Ali Williamson along with Peplowski, while county runner-up Monument got state berths from Emily Martin and Jennifer Evans. Lenox's Ella King rounds out those headed to Charlemont.
On the boys side, Taconic will send four led by Connor, who Latimer thinks can finish in the top 10. He's joined by Shaun Pero, Tim Schmidt and Keegan Kelly. Pittsfield (Sean Keenan, Garrett Dempsey, Erich Maynard) and Monument (Pfeiffer, McFarland, Akers) will send three each, while Greylock qualified Ryan Kuhn and Nick DiSanti. Will Dyer-Kloman made it by finishing third in the county for Lenox, while Matt Geyer reached the state meet in the first year of Wahconah's return to the slopes.
Spartans coach Peter Dunham said he's glad to be sending so many racers to the postseason. He emphasized to both his teams how important clean runs were on Monday.
"I told them, ‘You know, you can go out and try to win if you would like to,' " Dunham said. "I said, ‘But really all you need to do is get to the bottom. ... Tonight, ski smart, get to the bottom. Don't worry about the county this year. Let's just focus on states.' "
To reach Christopher James:
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On Twitter: @BECJ2K.