Skiing for many is a fun activity to do over the weekend. Going up to the mountain for a day and getting to hang out with friends can be a great way to enjoy oneself. But for some, skiing, specifically ski racing, is their sport. The Eastside Ski Team is a group of students from Franklin, Grant, Cleveland, Jefferson, Benson, and Madison who practice together. Although they are a team, when racing, they represent their schools. There are currently 57 members of the team, all from one of the six PPS schools. Randy Hewitt, the head coach, founded Eastside Ski Team and has been coaching for the past 15 seasons. Although Franklin numbers on the team have been small, Hewitt still is hopeful. Currently there are 5 members from Franklin.
For skiers on the team, dry land training starts in November: they practice three times a week to get ready for the racing season. By December, they start practicing at Mt. Hood Ski Bowl and in January and February they start racing. Throughout the racing season, the team races every Saturday in one of three locations on Mt Hood (Ski Bowl, Meadows, or Timberline). “Races are simultaneously fun and intense. For the racer in a course, it’s 100% concentrated adrenaline that bursts forth as a smile and a cheer upon crossing the finish line,” Hewitt explains.
Hewitt started the Eastside team when his daughter started high school. At the time there were no teams for any of the East Side schools in Portland. He continued coaching during his son’s high school racing career and has stayed with it through the years. “Now it has a robust life of its own and I couldn’t imagine not being part of it,” Hewitt says. This team has opened up opportunities for kids in all six of the schools to be able to ski race. Lucien Poncet (9) has grown up skiing, starting when he was 5 years old. “I was sort of nervous joining it at first because a lot of these kids have been skiing since before they could walk. However, they were all very nice to me and other new kids on the team, which was very reassuring.”
Being on a ski team is different then being on other sports teams. Although you compete for your team, you race individually. Everyone has different times and runs that they are trying to improve. Even though they aren’t racing together, the team bonding aspect of the sport is still there. Hewitt explains, “Ski racers spend a lot of time together — traveling, chair lift rides, meals, etc. — so there’s a lot of time for friendships to develop.” This combination of both team and independent aspects of the sport attract students like Poncet.
The Eastside Ski Team has been around for awhile, and with 57 members this year, the team has broken a personal record for participants. “Success can be a multi-faceted concept. From the perspective of participation, Eastside is super-successful,” Hewitt says. During their races they go up against other schools from the Mt. Hood Ski Racing League including St. Mary’s Academy, Barlow, Sandy, Hood River, and The Dalles’ high schools. All of these competitors practice on Mt. Hood. Being close to a mountain is essential for these ski teams and can influence the ability of the team. Depending on how close you are to the mountains also determines how easy it is for you to practice. “The competition at the highest level is challenging because schools that are near the mountain and have easier access to training, like Hood River Valley, have a strategic advantage over our schools,” Hewitt concludes.
Ski racing is not for everyone. There are two major constraints these racers have to overcome: time and money. Racers spend the four months of the season practicing and racing, with no extra time for other extracurricular activities. These athletes devote the season to skiing. At the same time, a racer can spend anywhere from $1000-2000 on all their equipment, travel and lodging. Team Director Sharon Johnson adds “In November, we have our one and only fundraiser – a Ski Swap. It’s an expensive sport so any money we can raise to help support the team is necessary.”
For the Eastside team, racers must know how to ski: “Racers need to start out with intermediate skills. Skiers who just want to ride up the mountain and to hang with ski buddies but not train don’t do so well with our team structure,” Hewitt says. This requirement ensures all team members are able to race during the competition season in January and February. With a four month season there is no time to teach members how to ski, while also preparing for the races coming up.
Racers from six schools come together to do a sport they love, spending a large amount of their winter up on the mountain. Thanks to Hewitt, these students are able to practice and race for their own school, cultivating school spirit as well as independence. “A couple of adult coaches made it happen for me, serving as mentors that I still appreciate. I’m trying to fill that role now for the youths under my watch,” Hewitt concludes.