RMC Ski Racing captures consecutive national titles

It was a long hour on March 9, after the Battlin' Bears men's ski racing team had completed its runs in Lake Placid, New York, former home to the 1980 Winter Olympics, for the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association's (USCSA) national championships in alpine skiing. It was out of their hands-all that remained was the wait.

But when Babson College's team beat Castleton University in the slalom-by a mere four-hundredths of a second-it was sealed: the Battlin' Bears had claimed their third consecutive combined team national championship, via a four-way tie-breaker with Babson, Castleton, and Sierra Nevada College.

The drama came one day after the women's team defended its 2017 USCSA title.

"What an amazing year," said Head Coach Jerry Wolf, who has been running the men's and women's alpine ski program since 2001. "Our titles were hard-fought and didn’t come easy. It took everyone on our roster, from the top to the bottom to get it done."

Wolf is no stranger to this level of competition. In 17 years, his teams have qualified for the USCSA National Championships each year, and brought hardware back to Billings nine times-the men's team claiming six titles and the women's team earning three.

Lisa Hiltula (RMC Class of 2021) was the overall women's individual champion at this year's event after a first place finish in the slalom.

Emeline LaFarge (RMC Class of 2020) joined her teammate on the podium, finishing third in the overall competition.

Hiltula and LaFarge alternated top finishes for two runs of the women's slalom event, with Hiltula's combined time a mere 28 hundredths of a second ahead of her teammate. Hiltula was also the top RMC athlete in the giant slalom, finishing third, with Camille Virelaude (RMC Class of 2018) in fifth and LaFarge in eighth.

"Nothing was given," said Virelaude. "We had to fight and put in our best skiing."

On the men's side, Andraz Reich Pogladic (RMC Class of 2019) claimed the national title in the giant slalom. Sean McCormick (RMC Class of 2019) turned in top-ten finishes in both the slalom and giant slalom, and Jacob Rangnitt (RMC Class of 2021) placed fourth in the slalom.

In addition to his victory in the giant slalom, Reich Pogladic was favored to win the slalom after completing his first run in 49.91 seconds—the only racer to finish the course in under 50 seconds. However, he was disqualified after missing a gate on his second run. Reich Pogladic was the 2017 champion in the event.

"He was just trying to win by more, give us a better chance for the team win," Coach Wolf said.

Reich Pogladic missed most of the season with an injury, only returning in time to help the Battlin' Bears win the USCSA West Regional Championships, which were held in Jackson, Wyo., in February.

"It was the plan not to rush the rehab," said Wolf. "He basically had to sacrifice his personal ski season, delay his return, to make sure he was 100 percent in time to defend the national title."

"Having both the men and women win the second time felt like an accomplishment that wasn't possible in the beginning," said Susan Beks (RMC Class of 2018). "So, after winning again, it almost felt better than doing it for the first time. It felt like a team effort, because we needed everyone."

The Battlin' Bears often start training for the season later than their opponents, due to a long fall season. "That can be especially frustrating for our freshmen, who are used to being on the snow all year," said Wolf, who uses the warmer months to strengthen team bonding.

"It's all about spending time together, having team meetings. We'll get into the mountains and hike, or go camping," he added.

LaFarge says that "one of the team's greatest strengths is that we are all really close, like a big family."

"Coach Wolf is the one who makes this team successful," Hiltula added. "He believes in us, that we know what we are doing, and he is the best support at the race."

The Battlin' Bears look forward to defending their national titles again next year at Snow King Mountain in Jackson Hole, Wyo.