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Nordic skiing

Pole position

ConVal cross-country skiiers ready for season

  • The ConVal Nordic ski team hosted its only meet of the season on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2012.<br/><br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal Nordic ski team hosted its only meet of the season on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2012.<br/><br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

With sports like basketball, soccer and football, it’s not too hard to get kids to come out for the team. Everyone’s seen those sports on TV or on the cover of a magazine, and there are plenty of people out there who want to be the next Lebron James, Wayne Rooney or Tom Brady. So how do you get high school students to join the sports that don’t get quite so much attention and coverage? ConVal High School Nordic skiing coach Scott McGovern has a simple recipe for success: make it fun with friends.

“I think people do come because they’re curious about the sport,” McGovern said, “but they’re also coming because they know there’s some fun people on the team as well. There’s a double lure. Once they’re curious, they come and they find out that they can have fun and they can enjoy themselves in the sport and then they’re hooked.”

McGovern’s practices are more than simply sliding around in the snow, shivering all the while; the ConVal Nordic team members find themselves playing ultimate frisbee and a variety of other “dry-land” sports while they ski. And then, of course, there’s the “great ice cream day.” Skiers tie a rope to their belt and drag a container full of homemade ice cream ingredients behind them, which churns as they ski.

“The catch is that you’ve got to keep skiing continuously the whole time or it won’t churn,” McGovern said. “So there’s kind of a ‘Gotcha!’ part to it for the training, because you’ve got to keep moving, which is great. You’ve gotta keep moving or else the ice cream won’t make, and it makes really good ice cream.”

It’s fun elements like this that keep the ConVal nordic team going and cement McGovern as one of the area’s most beloved coaches.

“I think (McGovern) does a fantastic job of making it both a workout and training, good for all levels and also they’re really, really fun and enjoyable for everyone,” said Dennis Page, a 2009 ConVal grad who skied for McGovern and now helps out with coaching when he can. “It keeps us coming back. It’s a great atmosphere.”

Current ConVal skier Sydney Michalak was in agreement.

“Scott is one of the most amazing coaches I’ve ever had. He’s the one that got me into Nordic. I’d never skied before, never been on snow, and I said ‘Why not? Why not try Nordic?’ I joined the team and he was just amazing.”

Michalak was one of many skiers who joined the Nordic team with little cross-country skiing experience. Of the 11 members of this year’s team, six are novices who have never really been on cross-country skis before – “certainly not in any racing capacity,” McGovern said.

“At ConVal, we’ve not tended to get people who have come up through a racing program in their earlier years,” McGovern said. The Bill Koch youth ski league does operate in the area, with races at locations like Windblown in New Ipswich, but the strength of numbers in the program varies from year to year. “We’ve had this gap where not a lot of skiers have been introduced to racing in their younger years. So, almost all the ConVal skiers that I’m working with have not much racing background at all and I’m basically teaching them how to ski. They might have recreational cross-country skiing experience, but pretty much that’s classic skiing and not trying to go fast at all and with probably very little formal instruction.”

One such novice skier is junior Mei Buzzell, who joined the team at least in part because Michalak urged her to.

“I had a lot of influence from my friends,” Buzzell said. She said she’s been having fun at the practices and learning some techniques, but come that first race day (Monday at Lebanon), everything will still be brand new to her.

“I’ll be really nervous,” Buzzell said, “I don’t know how I’m supposed to ski or how the course is supposed to look.” In fact, Buzzell confided, she’s even “iffy” on the winter weather! “I don’t really like the coldness,” Buzzell said.

Of course, most of the members of ConVal’s Nordic team started out just as green as Buzzell. Michalak and fellow senior Ben Wescott were in the same position when they joined the team; now they’re two of the top skiers in the state. Michalak made it all the way to the Eastern High School championships last year after a pair of top 10 finishes at the Meet of Champions.

“She’s a natural athlete,” said McGovern. “Her personal goal is to be the number one girl in New Hampshire.”

With a lot of hard offseason work under her belt, including training with the prestigious Cambridge Sports Union in Massachusetts, Michalak is in position to improve upon last year’s great season.

“I have a couple goals,” Michalak said. “One is to get top 10 in Eastern High Schools. You qualify at different races during the season – there are two Coaches’ Series races –and then you qualify for Team New Hampshire. Team New Hampshire goes and competes in Eastern High Schools and my goal is to get top 10 there. And if I’m super lucky this year, I want to try and qualify for Junior Nationals. But that one’s going to be kind of like a long shot.”

Wescott, too, has lofty aspirations this winter. A longtime alpine skier, Wescott was not well-versed in Nordic skiing before joining the ConVal team. Now, he’s strong enough in both to compete for the skimeister title, which is awarded to the skier who demonstrates proficiency in all skiing disciplines. Wescott took the bronze in that competition last year; he hopes to top that this season.

“My goal is to work as hard as I can to get the gold medal for the skimeister competition,” Wescott said. “Just to go as fast as I can for the state championship.”

Those two standouts will be joined by a handful of returning skiers from last year, including senior Rowan Wilson, who also made it to the Meet of Champions last year; senior Tyler Aborn, who McGovern described as solid skier who has improved steadily every year; and junior Kelsa Danforth, a multi-sport athlete who treats Nordic skiing as a cross-training opportunity. The team will be strong and have some individual standouts, but with six novice skiers making up the rest of the roster, the Cougars aren’t expected to take home a lot of first-place finishes as a team. But, McGovern said, that isn’t exactly the point.

“My main goal is not to win competitions for ConVal,” McGovern said. “It’s to introduce skiers to a really fun activity that they can pursue for the rest of their lives.”

And as much fun as the novice skiers have learning the ropes in their new sport and getting out there in competitions, that same energy is channeled into the now more experienced skiers like Wescott.

“We have a lot of new skiers,” Wescott said, “and it’s really reenergizing me about the sport because they all love it and they’re all beginners, which is nice to see. It gets me excited about it.”

That sense of community is really what it’s all about for McGovern.

“Everyone has a good connection to the team,” McGovern said. “We have enjoyed a really, really strong sense of belonging and connection with each other throughout the years. It’s been great that way, it’s been terrific actually, because the kids bring each other in and so there’s this natural social network, and they enjoy being with each other. So when they’re learning how to ski and you keep the skiing part enjoyable and they’re having fun with each other, it’s a natural combination that makes for a positive experience that people can then carry forward with them.”

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