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Members of Hamilton's Nordic Ski team.
Members of Hamilton's Nordic Ski team.

Young Nordic Ski Team Pushes Forward

McKayla Dunfey Qualifies for USCSA Nationals

By Katrina Rabeler '12  |  Contact Holly Foster 315-859-4068
Posted February 23, 2010
Tags Nordic Ski Team
While many athletes turn indoors to exercise during the winter months, the Hamilton Nordic Ski team embraces the snow and even the cold. Donning only spandex in sub-zero temperatures, team members joke that the cold only encourages them to ski faster.

The co-ed Nordic ski club consists of about 20 students, ranging from students who were champions in high school to those who had never experienced snow before they came to Hamilton. Though they encourage people of all skiing abilities to join the team, the club focuses on racing.

The club competes in the Eastern division of the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA), the equivalent of Division II racing. Nordic consists of two different styles of cross country skiing: classic and skate (also known as freestyle). This season, the team has competed in nine races, usually attending two races a weekend (a skate and a classic). Race lengths vary but typical skate and classic races are each anywhere from 8 to 15k long. Hamilton typically competes against West Point, Clarkson, Cornell, Ithaca, Paul Smith, Skidmore, Wellesley and Yale. A team is scored based on the finishing place of their top three scorers. Hamilton’s women’s team has consistently come in third at races this season, though last year the women’s team tied for first with Cornell in the USCSA eastern division.

This year, the team competed throughout New York and Vermont, including on the Olympic biathlon course in Lake Placid and at the Army’s personal Nordic ski area in Jericho, Vt., where West Point students taught their fellow-racers to shoot rifles at the biathlon range.

“I’d never shot before. It was really cool to have proper instruction,” said Nick Costantino ’12, Hamilton’s top-scorer for the men’s Nordic team.

On Feb. 19-21, the team attended regionals, also in Jericho, Vt. Though neither the women’s nor men’s teams had enough competitors to make a team, the team’s captain and top-scorer, McKayla Dunfey ’12, qualified for nationals.

Though Dunfey is consistently one of the first three finishers in the USCSA league of more than 50 Nordic women racers, the regional’s classic race showed her how much can go wrong. Classic racing requires that one wax their skis to the correct temperature that will allow the ski to glide on the snow but still get some kick so that the racer can propel herself forward. Though Dunfey has been racing for years, she misjudged the conditions this past weekend and put on wax that made her very slow and stick to the snow. As a result, she came in third to last.

“It was actually really funny. I looked like I had never skied before. I was unable to glide even once and was going slower on the downhills than the uphills! ” Dunfey explained.

Dunfey’s ski waxing disaster is a testament to how technical the sport of cross country ski racing can be. Luckily, due to her excellent skate race the following day, Dunfey is still able to compete in nationals. USCSA nationals will take place March 1-7 at Black Mountain in Rumford, Maine. The week-long competition consists of four different races: a 15k classic, an 8 ½k skate, a sprint, and a 3x5 relay.

“I’m excited about nationals because it’s in my home state on trails that I had all of my high school state meets at. I’m just going to have fun and participate,” Dunfey said. “I have no idea how well I will do because there will be racers from all over the country.”

Hamilton’s Nordic team may be young, but it holds great promise. Dunfey has already been contacted by multiple prospective student Nordic skiers looking to join the team if they get accepted to Hamilton. One even referred to her as “Coach Dunfey.”

Although they have no official coach, the team does receive help from Professors Todd Rayne and Onno Oerlemans and often attend a clinic with former World Cup circuit racer, Chris Klein. The team practices four times a week, either in the Gen at Hamilton or at the Game Club, a Nordic ski area a half hour away. Dunfey hopes that the club can eventually become a real varsity team, complete with a coach and a membership in the Division I Nordic circuit. Next year she expects the entire woman’s team to qualify for nationals and to have a stronger men’s team thanks to the incoming freshmen who have racing experience. According to Dunfey, there has also been talk of setting up a biathlon course on Hamilton’s golf course.

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