More than 400 high school skiers and snowboarders from around Wisconsin competed this weekend and Monday at the Wisconsin State High School Ski and Snowboard Championships hosted by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Alpine Racing Association at Mt. La Crosse.
“I really like this hill, the history here, how everything is set up,” said Francesca Anderson, a West Bend snowboarder making her second appearance at the state competition.
This year marks 48 years of state competition and 30 years in La Crosse, even as warmer weather last week melted snow throughout the Coulee Region.
Using a fleet of snow making machines, Mt. La Crosse’s staff produced enough snow to open the “Thunderation” run for the high school racers and several other runs for the public.
“The quality of the snow was awesome,” said Steve Mikkelson, WIARA president and head coach for the joint La Crosse high school ski team. “The crew out here has been doing it for so long that they do a nice job, and it was tough this week with the amount of rain we got to get everything in good shape.”
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Rice Lake snowboarder Ethan Thompson, making his state tournament debut, said the course set up made for a “rhythmic” and “smooth” ride while still being engaging. “It’s really steep,” Thompson said about the hill. “It’s got challenge to it.”
Competitiveness and working to improve kept Anderson returning to the slope. Eeva Luukas, a Finnish foreigner exchange snowboarding at West Bend, agreed.
“I just like it, it’s challenging,” said Luukas. “It’s always something new and I can learn and have fun.”
In addition to a rigorous course, the Wisconsin state tournament offers a professional atmosphere not often seen at the high school level, said Mikkelson. Wisconsin is the only state to offer a state high school competition for both skiing and snowboarding, the only state to offer a jumbotron screen for spectators, and one of the few states holding competitions in three different slalom racing categories.
Snowboarders also compete in a race with built-in terrain and small jumps called bordercross.
“I like the competition, it’s something different,” said Noah Steinke, Waukesha snowboarder about the bordercross event. “There’s more at stake.”
Individual racers are ranked by how fast they can make it from the top of the hill to the finish line, needing to make turns around a series of gates in slalom events, and teams are ranked based on collective performance.
Although a championship tournament, the high school racers from more than a dozen teams around the state built camaraderie with competitors and made room to enjoy the ride.
“I’m just hoping my team makes the podium again,” said Grace Roepsch, Middleton snowboarder. “I’ve been doing pretty good for myself, having fun doing it.”
At his first state tournament, Thompson found support from peers taking time to explain the course. “It’s a nice community to be in.” said Thompson. “[I’m] happy to be here. Everyone’s really nice. The competition is fierce.”
Being surrounded by friends kept Waunakee snowboarder Zach King in the sport. He noted the state tournament offered a chance to meet and reunite with friends from across the state.
“Initially I just joined it as a ride to the ski hill, but then I found out racing was pretty enjoyable,” said King. “Just being out here on the hill with everyone is fun.”
“We really look forward to bringing in kids from around the state, and you get to see kids that you only get to see once or twice a year, and you get to see coaches maybe you only get to see once a year at this meet,” said Mikkelson. “It’s a reunion for a lot of people.”