The Kelly Walsh alpine ski team has always been at a disadvantage. After-school practices involve technique work and cardio to help with conditioning, but all of that is done at the high school — miles north and 1,000 feet lower than Hogadon Basin Ski Resort.
Because Hogadon does not have lights and closes at 4 p.m. the Trojans aren’t able to actually ski until the weekends.
However, that’s not dampening the team’s goals. The Trojans have their eyes sight on an upset at the state meet. That movement has started with boys standout Sam James.
James finished just behind three skiers from powerhouse Jackson in the Friday slalom at the season-opening meet at Laramie’s Snowy Range. Putting the giant out of his mind has been a strategy that has worked for him so far.
“We don’t think about Jackson, we just think about our own skiing,” James said on the first day of the Trojans’ home invite Friday. “Because it’s not about them, it’s about us. We’re the ones skiing and we’re the ones who need to ski fast.”
Jackson has won the last six boys alpine ski championships. They also won the first meet of the year by 60 points.
That’s the inevitable reality facing the Trojans if they want to move up from their second-place finishes like the one at Snowy Range. Problems like the lack of practice on Casper Mountain aren’t helping the cause.
The lack of significant snow at Hogadon before the weekend altered runs for the Kelly Walsh Invite. Skiers have typically gone down Dreadnaught, one of Hogadon’s black runs because of its steep decline, for alpine meets. This weekend they went down Boomerang, a blue run and one of the few runs open.
But instead of focusing on the problems and hurdles, James and the Trojans rolled with the punches.
“We’ve trained this hill a lot,” James said. “So we’re ready. We’re good to go.”
Different skiers get prepared for races in myriad ways. While some blare music from their phones and bluetooth speakers before their races, James always dials in. Unshakable after the race organizer calls “James on deck,” the reigning all-state selection focuses on what he needs to do.
“I think about the course and I visualize myself going down the course before I go so I’m ready,” he said. “Basically, I take one run down and treat it like a practice run so the second time I go down I can visualize it in my head.”
That falls in line with what head coach Ben Schanck has told the Trojans. Even minutes before the junior varsity skiers made their runs, he echoed to his team that the event is 90 percent mental and 10 percent skill.
So if the Trojans are going to make the leap from second to first — with all the obstacles that have plagued them this season — it starts with the mental game. And so far, that has worked.
Through every after-school practice spent at the high school, working gates on weekends, the team has bonded together. They don’t talk about the ultimate goal and where the road of this season ends.
In one of the rare moments where the Trojans’ top skier looked ahead of just his next run, he explained the reason for so much optimism among the team.
“We feel confident,” James said. “We feel like we can win this year. We have a good team and we feel fast.”
But that grand view quickly dialed back to the next Kelly Walsh run. There’s good reason for that.
As the Trojans’ head coach constantly explains in practice, the outcome of nearly every run begins with the mental approach. And James will not be defeated in the mental game.
“Every race we ski our hardest so that by the time state comes around it’s just another race,” James said. “We’ve got to treat it like another race because if you treat it like a big deal then you get nervous.”