The Tussey Mountain Alpine Racing Team has its largest class of under-14 athletes of all time, but that hasn’t stopped coach Eric Updegrove and his staff from trying to grow the team.
There are 67 racers on the ski team this season, including about 16 from the U14 age group.
Updegrove has been involved with the ski team for the past 20 years and said there were just three racers on the team at the beginning.
Many TMART skiers live about 15 minutes from Tussey Mountain, which provides an advantage that many skiers do not have, according to former coach Tom Kennington and Updegrove. The two agreed that Tussey Mountain’s location is something to appreciate.
“People say Tussey Mountain isn’t a good ski area, and every time I hear that I say, ‘That’s the biggest bag of crap I’ve ever heard,’ ” Kennington said. “AccuWeather interviewed me and said, ‘Where is the skiing better? Out West or out East?’ I’m like, ‘Of course, it’s on the East Coast.’
“There are more small ski areas here than there are big ski areas out there. The travel distance is 15 minutes maybe. In State College, you can be going to a public high school and be skiing every day for two and a half to three months. No one else can do that. The families in Denver only go skiing three or four times a year.”
TMART has two competitions at Tussey Mountain this season, scheduled for Feb. 17-18 and March 2-4 for the U12 Derby.
“The atmosphere is alive. Our race that we held here last year had 165 racers. We give kids cow bells and noisemakers and honkers. The sport is dependent on individual competition, but you have the support and backbone of the team cheering those athletes on,” Updegrove said. “Our older athletes who don’t participate in that race, for them, it’s usually beach day. Everyone dresses up in Hawaiian shirts and lei and beach umbrellas. It’s sort of like the kid’s version of a NASCAR race. It’s way over the top and no alcohol involved, but they take it to the limit.”
The team’s first season was in 1981, according to Kennington, and the team has since developed the two training schedules they have now.
The development program, or DEVO, is for intermediate skiers ages 6-12 who wish to improve their overall skiing ability. The competition team, or COMP, is for skiers ages 8-19 who have a strong technical background and wish to compete in local and regional United States Ski and Snowboard Association races.
Updegrove credited the team’s development program and Tussey Mountain’s ski school as two of the key factors in the team’s growth over the past 20 years.
“They run a Saturday program, which is a classic learn-to-ski program for little kids,” Updegrove said. “We run a program that bridges that. The DEVO is a feeder for our COMP. We’ve really been focusing on our development program for the last couple of years and we’re starting to see the payoff now.”
The payoff results in 10 weeks of training for COMP skiers. A week’s worth of COMP training is 18 hours, which results in 180 hours of on-snow training for the season. DEVO skiers receive seven weeks of training with six hours of training per week for a total of 42 hours of on-snow training.
The cost to join the COMP program, Updegrove said, is about $590, which is slightly more than $3 per hour for instruction. The price does not factor in travel-related costs. Those in the DEVO program typically do not travel for competitions, but Updegrove said they may if they’re excelling in the program. As for the COMP program, those skiers began officially training on Jan. 2 and competed in their first race on Jan. 7.