Rocky ski teams will remain a force on slopes

2012-12-06T22:30:00Z 2012-12-07T05:20:04Z Rocky ski teams will remain a force on slopes The Billings Gazette

Jerry Wolf is heading into his 12th season as the ski-racing coach at Rocky Mountain College.

"I'm as excited as I was on Day 1 of this job," he said.

For good reason.

The Battlin' Bear men and women — despite undergoing an overhaul with several new skiers — are expected to remain a force to be reckoned with in United States Collegiate Ski Association (USCSA) alpine competition this winter.

"We'll be just as competitive," said the 49-year-old Wolf. "I graduated five gals and seven guys last year, but I did get five new women and five new men.

"So there's a lot of new faces, but a lot of new talent, too."

Rocky's men, who have won three USCSA national combined championships since 2005, placed second to rival Sierra Nevada College last year in Maine. The RMC women wound up sixth.

The Bears have some key returnees for both the men and women, but Rocky has also fortified its rosters with talent and depth in the form of six new skiers from Sweden and France.

Recruits from Oregon, Idaho and Massachusetts have also signed on with the Bears.

"I really worked hard recruiting more athletes so I didn't leave my team short," said Wolf.

Rocky will officially open its season Jan. 4-6 with Grand Teton Conference giant slalom and slalom racing at Red Lodge Mountain's Lower Limited run.

"You'll hear this name — Nils Hoegbom," Wolf said of one of his most-promising newcomers. "He's from Sweden. He's probably the best skier that has come to Rocky."

That's saying something when you consider Rocky's recent rosters have included regional and national champions in Pete Petry, A.J. Cronk and Olle Friberg.

Rocky's men return senior Bjorn Tuaz of France and junior Anton Larsson of Sweden, who were members of the 2011 national title team and last year's runner-up squad.

While freshman Hoegbom, 22, might be the guy to chase on the slopes, Rocky has also added other potential stars in Jonas Olofsson of Sweden, Harlan Collins of Sun Valley, Idaho, and Arthur Loye of France.

"There's going to be a lot of fighting for spots, for sure," Wolf said. "The team will be really deep in talent, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out."

Besides the slalom and GS racing at nationals, Rocky's Larsson and fellow returnees Nelson Hedrich and Ian Mott were also part of the school's championship Skier Cross team in 2012.

"We're pretty fired up," Wolf said. "Our guys are stellar, but our guys have always been good. We're really fired up about our ladies' team. Maybe this could be the year for the gals."

The Rocky women have been second at nationals on a couple of occasions — most recently in 2011.

"We slipped a little bit last year at nationals just because we didn't have a whole lot of depth," Wolf said.

Mimmi Palovaara of Sweden is the team's lone senior. Sophomores Jessica Wolf — Jerry's daughter — and Heidi Armstrong also competed at nationals a year ago.

Another sophomore, Suzanne Davis, redshirted last season after suffering a knee injury.

Wolf has brought in freshmen Eloise Julliand of France, Fredrika Hjelm and Malin Eriksson of Sweden, Kendra Uhl of Oregon and Sierra Wilson of Massachusetts to help bolster the lineup.

"Talent-wise, I've got a great base to work with," said Wolf, who will be assisted by AJ Oliver, who skied on RMC's 2011 national title team.

Most of Rocky's new European skiers — men and women — have solid point profiles for FIS (International Ski Federation) races and have been competing individually around the world. The team concept, however, will be something new for them.

"There will be a learning curve," Wolf said. "I talk it up on how you have to be consistent and how you need to make it to the finish line for your teammates."

Thirteen of Rocky's skiers spent the week of Thanksgiving skiing and training in the Canadian Rockies at Norquay in Banff, Alberta. They also watched a men's World Cup downhill race at Lake Louise.

"It was fun to get to know them during that week," Wolf said of his skiers. "We were living in the condos together, eating together and skiing together."

The Bears' race schedule has them competing three times on their home hill at Red Lodge Mountain, including Jan. 19-21 and Feb. 21-23 for regionals. Nationals will be in early March at Sun Valley.

Rocky's men and women have made 11 consecutive trips to nationals together. That program-record string started in 2001-02, which was Wolf's first season.

"It's great looking back on all of my athletes, what they have accomplished, what they've done for the school and just getting to know them," Wolf said. "To see all the new faces and having it happen all over again ... I'm looking forward to another exciting year."


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