Team's members hit Eastern slopes as fast as they can

Racing: Some in the Columbia Ski Club make up for less-than-ideal skiing conditions by putting a competitive spin on the sport.

January 13, 2002|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The idea of a ski racing team calling Howard County home may smack a bit of Jamaica having a bobsled team. But such a team -- dubbed the Columbia Race Team -- exists, has youth and adult members and is even looking this winter to repeat last season's dominance of its league.

And contrary to what some might think, ski racing for this group isn't just for winter -- which is when the Columbia contingent, numbering as many as 30 on a weekend cold enough for snow, heads to Ski Liberty in Carroll Valley, Pa., to train. In warm weather, the racers in the Columbia Ski Club don in-line skates and practice slalom moves by swooping around cones on parking lots.

"A lot of movements that can be done on in-line skates are readily transferable to skis," says Ted Miksinski III, 29, co-captain of the racing team.

He and Linda Bain, team chairwoman and also co-captain, regularly train at Liberty -- and the work has paid off.

Last season, the team won the Washington Ski International, a series of races in the Baltimore-Washington area. Events are held at mid-Atlantic slopes, including Pennsylvania's Blue Knob, Liberty, Roundtop, Seven Springs and Whitetail, and West Virginia's Canaan Valley and Timberline.

A few team members race in the American Ski Racing Alliance series, which is held in the Pocono Mountains and Vermont and culminates in national championships.

"We do have people who go up and win their categories in ASRA," says Bain. "But a lot of people have jobs and families -- it's hard to go that far."

The big races for most team members are at Seven Springs and Canaan Valley.

`A really active club'

The club's racers include a number of Howard County residents but also come from elsewhere in Central Maryland. Miksinski, a social worker in Annapolis, lives in Linthicum. Bain, who substitutes as an elementary school teacher, lives in Burtonsville.

"Columbia is the biggest and best ski club around," says Miksinski, adding that the 500-plus member club is sponsoring a trip to New Zealand in August. "It's a really active club -- the racing is just one component of the club."

Competitive edge

But Howard County is home to plenty of competitive skiers. One is team newcomer Nita Sorge, 30, a U.S. Foodservice employee who lives in Columbia's Owen Brown village. Sorge skied for her college team at Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology.

"I've tried to ski at least once every season, but this is the first I've raced ... since college," she says. She apparently hasn't lost her touch, finishing first and second in her first two events.

Racers compete in the slalom and the longer giant-slalom events, where they navigate around gates stuck in the snow. They do two runs in each event, keeping their best time. They get individual points for how they place, and the team gets points for how it does overall. Women and men have separate categories divided by age -- 20 and up, 30 and up, and so on.

`I wanted to race'

Bain, 55, whose car's rear license plate is encircled by a frame that reads "Think Snow," grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore, far from any slopes. She first skied at age 47, not suspecting that a day trip with friends would lead to, as she puts it, the passion in her life.

She took lessons and, at 50, started racing. She finished third last winter in her division at the ASRA national championships in Killington, Vt.

Bain travels to Ski Liberty weekly during the season to work with a coach, and heads to Vermont two or three times a year to learn from another.

She has traveled to more exotic locales, too, including a heart-stopping trip to France's Mont Blanc, where skiers were at times roped together for safety and led by a guide along narrow mountain ledges.

Bain was instrumental in rebuilding the club's racing team when it started to dwindle to just a handful of skiers.

"I wanted to race, so I said I'd better build it up," she says, laughing.

One appeal of racing, Bain and other local skiers say, is that the competition helps make up for the mid-Atlantic's topographical shortcomings.

"The mountains around here aren't very big," says Miksinski.

Joining the club

The Columbia Ski Club always has room for more members, potential racers or not, its leaders say. If you're interested in racing, racing team chairwoman Linda Bain says, the ability to "make some turns" is the main require- ment. Snowboarders are welcome, too.

Information: Linda Bain, 301- 384-1433, or www.columbiaski

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