Is weekend Alpine ski racing now optional?
When was the last time you slept in on the weekend?
If you're an Alpine ski racer, it's been a while and there's a long way to go.
For some of the best high school racers, skiing goes beyond the six events during the regular season. It's 10 hours a day, Saturday and Sunday, for three months.
"I guess it's just something that I've always done," said St. Joseph's senior Emma Peplowski. "I can't imagine spending my weekends in the winter doing anything else."
Weekend racing seems to be a key to being a winner on Monday nights, yet as the Berkshire County League grows, the number of those racing in tri-state or interclub events seems to be shrinking. Pittsfield coach Bob Geller, who also coaches Peplowski as part of a girls co-op, said he estimates about 40 percent of his racers ski competitively on the weekends. When his son raced for Pittsfield five years ago, Geller said racers couldn't make varsity unless they were skiing competitively on the weekends.
"It's all changed now," Geller said. "The economy, I think, took a toll. It's very expensive to be a member of a race program. More importantly is the commitment. Kids have other commitments."
At Bousquet Ski Area, interclub costs $375, while tri-state racing is $475 for the season, accoring to interclub and Wahconah Regional coach Jill Johnson. The coach said she has no weekend racers on her high school team, which is a new varsity program. More established programs like Pittsfield and Taconic have more racers, and Johnson said the benefits are obvious: more time on the snow and running gates.
"A lot of kids are steering more toward the twin tipping," Johnson said. "The bottom line is there's a lot of price involved in this. It's a huge commitment. A lot of kids burn out. That's a lot of time away from your friends. A lot of kids are involved in other sports now, too like indoor soccer."
Some just want to ski for fun. Geller said the high school season can be relaxed, with more of a "community" atmosphere than, say, the competitive feel of a soccer team.
Mike Peplowski, Emma's brother, is in his first year in the county league, and he doesn't race on weekends. He prefers to free ski in his spare time. That allows him to spend more time with his friends, instead of running gates and worrying about his time.
"[I like] just having fun and skiing with my friends, usually," he said, "going out there after a long day of school and just relaxing."
Johnson said she encourages her high schoolers to get the extra training on the weekend. Yet even as fewer race on the weekend, the number of competitors in the high school league has gone up by about 25. Geller said kids are realizing they can be part of the high school league without committing entire weekends to the sport.
Johnson said she remembers when she was a teenager racing on the weekends. Waking up early wasn't a whole lot of fun for her then, either.
"When you talk about weekends and the commitment part, you're talking about getting up early," she said. "We're talking about high schoolers. That's like pulling teeth."
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