The 24 members of the Harvard varsity ski team probably travel more than they ski, but this hasn't hindered the team so far.
It isn't that difficult to tell them apart from other Harvard athletes, because of their wind-chapped lips and bronze-tinted faces--still, they're not likely to be spotted much around Cambridge during February.
For the ski team, February is the ski season, as well as the climax of a training program that begins in mid-October on dry land and takes its skiers to New Hampshire and Vermont almost every weekend from Thanksgiving on, including a week-long Christmas camp in December With a total of only three meets on its schedule--on three successive weekends this month--the team has not had much of a chance this winter to ease up in its effort to qualify for the Division II championships next weekend in Syracuse, N.Y.
Other Division II schools Harvard competes against participate in a total of six meets over the winter, and only need three winning performances to make the championships. But Harvard's team can only ski at three of the six meets, due to the timing of Harvard's final exams. Then again, Harvard students, like men's cross-country captain Tim Allen '84, who started cross-country skiing at the age of four, Team to compete hard right out of the crib.
The ski team returned victorious this weekend from its third and final meet of the winter at Mad River Glenn, Vt with an overall record strong enough to carry it to the championships at Syracuse. The women's cross-country squad led the team's scoring, as it has all season, with an overall first-place finish, and men's cross-country captured second place in the "special" race behind a so-far undefeated team from Johnson State College in Vermont. Johnson State has been Harvard's only unbeatable rival in cross-country this season, says Allen.
But Allen seems confident that even without knowing what half of the 10 teams at the championships will look like, Harvard men's cross-country "stands a good chance of finishing second" in the relay. Manya Deehr '87, one of the women's top Nordic skiers and an Alaska native who has been on skis since the age of two, predicts a win for the women's relay squad.
At the team's three meets this month, all but the combined men's and women's teamsnordic and alpine--have finished among the top four out of nine teams, with the women's combined teams steaming to first place finishes twice.
Overall, Allen says, "the team is stronger than it was three years ago," when it dropped from Division I to Division II, and has a nucleus of very strong skiers, including Deehr. Allen, and three other co-captains--Jeff Donahue '84, Jenny Hale '85, and Margaret Waters '84. Waters finished second at the nordic Division I Eastern championships last winter.
But as might be expected, Harvard's main difficult recently has been at the admissions office rather than on the slopes and trials. Former co-captain Eric Albrecht, who rejoined the team after a year's absence, has helped spark Harvard's trip to the championships with third-, fifth-, and eight-place finishes. He cites a lack of recruiting for skiing as the main reason for Harvard's slippage from Division I. This year, for example, "nobody's talked to admissions," Albrecht says.
But any kind of recruitment drive, Albrecht points out, requires a full-time coach. The Harvard ski team has never had a permanent coach on campus--instead, the team captains hire two coaches each year, cross-country and downhill, who usually see the teams only when they travel north to train. "We used to be a Division I team, from the mid-'60s to 1980," says Albrecht. But, "to be consistently in Division I, we need a full-time coach," he adds.
Two years ago, Allen says, the cross-country team had no coach at all--but still did well in competition.
For the moment, Allen adds, "we're nowhere near being able to compete with Division I schools--it would be like Harvard football trying to play Nebraska."
But Harvard skiing is constrained where other schools, farther north, are not. Besides a lack of recruitment, and travel complexities, the ski team does not enjoy the funding that its rivals--Middlebury. Dartmouth, the University of Vermont--do. Out of this year's $18,000 budget, nearly one-third came from ski-team alumni--a sum which the team raised by sending out letters to former Harvard skiers.
But the sum is an improvement in fundraising over last year, when the team raised only $1200 from alumni. Albrecht says.
"All this fundraising would be more effective with a head coach," he adds. The rest of the team's budget comes from the athletic office and from Harvard's endowment fund.
Despite the apparent setbacks--actually. Albrecht says, most of the team enjoy traveling to meets--the skiers have done well in the past and have attracted several champion skiers. Judy Rabinowitz, who raced for Harvard as a freshman five years ago but has since left the College, is in Sarajevo right now competing for the U.S. Olympic squad. Erik Klausen '81, who had several top 10 finishes in Division I when he asked for Harvard, now races pro.
Albert Lager '84, ranked in the top 20 in Canada, was the team's top cross-country skier last year, but left the ski team this year to devote himself to crew. "I liked going away every weekend, and I miss the skiing," he says.
One Harvard hopeful, Bonnie St. John '86, recently returned from competing in the Handicapped Olympics at Innsbruck. Austria, where she collected a silver and two bronze medals in slalom. St. John says she hopes to ski for Harvard next year, despite the disadvantages she may face skiing on one leg against skiers on two. "I'll have to ski a lot better than someone else to make the same time," she adds.
If the ski team can catch fire this weekend at Syracuse, it stands a chance of going to the Eastern Championships at Middlebury the following weekend. But even if the entire team, men's and women's combined, does not get as far as the Easterns, "the women's teams have a very good chance of going." Allen says, adding that Deehr and Hale could go on to the championships individually.