Rocky Mountain College’s string of success in ski racing could reach historic proportions this weekend at the United States Collegiate Ski Association Western Regional Championships, which will take place on the slopes of Red Lodge Mountain.
The Battlin’ Bear men and women will both be looking to extend their remarkable streaks of qualifying together for the national championships to 12 consecutive years.
That achievement would tie the school record set by Rocky’s women’s golf team, which qualified for the national NAIA tournament 12 straight times from 1999-2010.
“The whole thing from Day 1 -- when I got here -- was to make it to nationals and every year since,” said 12-year head coach Jerry Wolf. “I guess when there’s a record involved … I’d love to have that feather in my cap. Why not?
“That would be great, and we have the team to do it.”
The three-day Western Regional competition in the giant slalom and slalom events will begin Thursday morning and run through Saturday afternoon on Lower Limited.
Racing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. all three days. Spectators are welcome, with the finish line within walking distance of the lodge.
The women’s GS is Thursday, followed by the men’s GS on Friday. The women’s and men’s slaloms will be held on Saturday.
Rocky, with its mixture of youth and experienced skiers, will have eight men and six women competing -- and Wolf is expecting good racing conditions.
There will be up to 17 schools -- from Colorado to British Columbia -- participating in both the men’s and women’s races. Roughly 150 skiers will be coming from the Grand Teton, Northwest and Rocky Mountain conferences, Wolf said.
The top four schools for men and women in the final combined (GS and slalom) standings will advance to the 35th annual USCSA championships March 6-9 in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Rocky's men and women have qualified every year since 2001-02.
Individually, Rocky's lineups this weekend will include All-America junior Anton Larsson, from Sweden, who placed second in the slalom and fourth in the GS at last year's regionals in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and senior Mimmi Palovaara, also from Sweden, who was second in the GS and fifth in the slalom a year ago.
Rocky’s men, ranked No. 1 nationally this winter, have won the regional title six times in the last eight years.
“They’re definitely strong enough to defend the title, for sure,” Wolf said of his latest team.
The men have also claimed three national crowns, with the most recent one coming in 2011 at Sun Valley.
Rocky’s women, who are No. 3 in the USCSA national rankings, were second at regionals last year.
“The women’s team is a little bit deeper than it was last year,” Wolf said. “That’s a definite plus.”
The Bears, who ruled over the Grand Teton Conference as champions again this season, last hosted the regional races at Red Lodge in 2007. Rocky swept both of the team titles that year.
This time around, the men and women from the University of British Columbia and College of Idaho look to be some of Rocky’s toughest challengers. UBC’s men are No. 3 in the national rankings and the women are 8th.
Red Lodge is the hill the Rocky team trains on, but it seems like the young Bears haven’t been home much this winter.
“The end of the season has come up so fast,” Wolf said. “We’ve been off racing and competing all over the place. I just wish we had a week of training before this meet.”
At regionals, teams compete with lineups in the GS and slalom that include up to five skiers. The times of the top three finishers are used to calculate the team standings.
Rocky’s men’s team will include Larsson, Nils Hoegbom, Harlan Collins, Bjorn Tuaz, Nelson Hedrich, Jonas Olofsson, Ian Mott and Arthur Loye. Four of the eight skiers are freshmen.
On the women’s side, the Bears will be represented by Palovaara, Eloise Julliand, Fredrika Hjelm, Malin Eriksson, Jessica Wolf and Suzanne Davis. Three of the six are freshmen.
Collectively, this is one of Rocky's youngest teams.
However, Wolf said it's also a talented group that realizes this is a qualifying meet, and completing runs is a must when it comes to making team history and getting to nationals.
“On race day, it’s all about them,” he said. “They’re the ones that have to do it.”