Few sports are more reliant on weather than alpine ski racing.
Every winter, the amount of snowfall directly correlates with how many days skiers have to train and compete in races.
The Pacific Northwest is expected to experience “El Nino” conditions this winter, characterized by warmer temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. Though El Nino creates varying weather patterns around the continental United States, the Pacific Northwest most commonly experiences drier winters in El Nino years, according to a Weather Channel study conducted in November.
This could mean another dry year for the University of Oregon club alpine ski team, already coming off two consecutive seasons with below-average snowfall. The team normally trains at Hoodoo Ski Area, 80 miles northeast of Eugene, but has been unable to do so in the last two seasons due to low snowfall.
“We set gates, get hill space and teach fundamentals to these kids,” co-captain Jake Railton said. “It’s hard to just jump in … there’s things that get thrown at you in a race where you’re expecting everyone to train, and most teams have. We’re usually one of the only teams that hasn’t.”
While snowfall, or lack thereof, could deter the Oregon alpine ski team from training, it won’t make or break a successful season. Being underprepared for competitions has obvious disadvantages, though the team has dealt with it before. Instead, they embrace being able to travel around the region, bond with each other and compete against fellow collegiate skiers.
“The UO ski team offered an opportunity for me to join people who also like to ski, enjoy the snow, travel and continue racing at the same time,” captain Megan Ganim said. “Having this outlet in college, even now in my senior year, is really beneficial.”
Railton, a Utah native, competed for the Park City Ski Team in high school. Racing against some of the best skiers in the country, Railton invested countless hours in trying to get better, but eventually got burnt out.
“In high school, it was really all I cared about,” Railton said. “I was a head case, taking it very seriously. I wasn’t getting the results I wanted, and that made me not want to ski for an NCAA school.”
Instead, Railton came to Oregon and tried out for the alpine ski team.
“I came here, and it was just perfect for me,” Railton said. “It became the thing I love about it, which is ski racing itself.”
Ganim and Railton have seen firsthand the effects of sub-par snowfall.
“Coming to a race and not having training is pretty frustrating,” Ganim said. “It would be awesome to get more snow this year.”
There is still optimism among the team that this year’s snowfall will be better than years past. The El Nino doesn’t automatically guarantee less snowfall, and in some years, can actually mean the opposite.
“You really don’t know until you’re actually in the season,” senior Stephan Splitstoser said. “I’m really hoping that we get a lot of snow, and can go up and do as much training as possible.”
Weather is out of their control, but the alpine ski team will make the necessary adjustments come racing season.
“The show goes on,” Ganim said.
Follow Will Denner on Twitter @Will_Denner