Head coach Jennifer Smith’s Detroit Mountain Alpine ski teams have found success across the state using team depth from a club that added 100 new members in its first five years.
“It’s just been beyond our wildest dreams,” said Smith.
Smith grew up in Canada with a heavy background in skiing and instruction and the program at Detroit Mountain started very informally.
“It just kind of blew up from there,” Smith said.
The program doubled its numbers the first two years.
“I joked with Jeff Staley that I wanted to hit 125, more for shock value, to be honest, and then we almost got there,” she said.
The program’s 116 skiers can race in the Midwest Snowsports Development League which is a learn to ski better program.
“Kids obviously need to know how to ski but we work with them,” Smith said. “We do a lot of fun activities on the snow to get them better and they don’t even really realize they’re essentially taking a lesson.”
To participate in D-League, home ski areas need to have an instructional program.
The league’s focus is on team and has a competitive opponent. The top five finishers in each age bracket score points, something the DL team has made big improvements at over the past few seasons.
“Our very first year, if we scored 11 points we were lucky,” said Smith. “We just didn’t have the depth. I’m a little blown away how quickly we’ve made our mark this year.”
In four races, DL skiers won a home race at Detroit Mountain and had two seconds and a third place, including a runner-up finish at the championship race.
“Our team scored a whopping 399 points, which is huge,” said Smith. “I love the fact that our five and unders score, as well as our 17 and up kids. It doesn’t matter what age. Everybody gets to participate in that.”
Full team participation is one of the differences with many non-traditional sports and a big reason why they have become so popular with kids.
“Everybody plays,” Smith said. “We don’t have a bench. Everybody races.”
The Alpine program has also benefited from a core group who have been with the program from the start, something that stands out to Smith as the program matures.
“I think a sense of community; we’ve got a good handful of families that were with us from the beginning,” she said. “They just love the mountain. They’re out there day and night every night it’s open. For our D-team and race team, it’s given us a focus on something to do while we’re out there. You’re a part of something and it’s taught the kids lots of life lessons. I tell the kids all the time they’re ambassadors for our program and to advertise well. Stop and help someone if they’ve fallen down or if you see garbage pick it up. There is just so much more than just a race team going on out there.”
The club also races in the Northland junior series, where racers of all ages run the same course. Detroit Lakes won the series championship this year.
“I felt second place, we had a chance,” said Smith. “I didn’t know that first place was in our reach yet. We’ve got great depth and it’s been fun to see them improve every year.”
The program and the mountain have also hosted MSHSL Alpine races the past two years.
“It’s great for our program and for families and the community to see the high school racers because they’re amazing,” said Smith.
Joining the Ski league and aiming for a future Minnesota State High School League sanctioned Alpine program are hopes for the future.
The current program could provide a dozen local racers to a MSHSL team with 7-10 more available if DL co-oped.
There are currently 82 boys alpine teams and 78 girls teams in four sections of one Class in Minnesota.
Brainerd currently co-ops with Pillager, Crosby-Ironton and Pequot Lakes. The Lakes Area team is a co-op of Alexandria, Fergus Falls, Wheaton and West Central Area.
Underwood has a team, but are short skiers. One of the coaches serves with Smith and Detroit Mountain has hosted league events for Underwood.
Most of the alpine teams are metro teams. The sport is still making a mark outstate.
“It’s a process and we have to be patient,” said Smith. “There are a lot of things to consider, financial is probably the biggest.”
Smith is also including one race next season sanctioned by the U.S. Ski & Snowboard (USSA) program for more advanced skiers.
“That’s a step up and no longer a club,” Smith said. “We have some kids that could definitely move into that area very soon.”
The club has space in all four programs, but the Little Rippers (4-7) and Rising Stars (6+) are a little more limited due to coaching ratios. Both programs are designed for new kids as an entry point to the race program.
“We have 12 coaches and I probably need more coaches for next year,” said Smith. “We all have the same philosophy. We want kids having fun. Our mission is to create lifelong skiers. That’s the bottom line and we focus on that. For those kids that are competitive and ready for that, we are ready for them, as well. It’s been key to balance that out. For us to do the program well the ratios need to be small. Our six and unders, I try to keep the ratio 4 to 1 in the beginning of the season. They need that much attention for safety. I don’t want to have 12 kids with just one coach when they’re that young.”
The other two groups allow for more flexibility to meet developmental and skill needs of each racer. Older kids are also encouraged to join.
“We have several rookies this year that were placing on the podium by the end of the season,” said Smith. “It is never too late to start and try something new.”
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org to be included on the email list for registration information this coming fall. A parent meeting is typically held the last Sunday in October.