High school skiers, snowboarders race down Mt. Shasta for season's start

Mike Chapman
Mount Shasta Herald
FILE - Mount Shasta's Brice Harkness skis to a first-place finish in an alpine race at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park on Feb. 16, 2021. The 2022 high school ski and snowboard season got underway Monday, Jan. 17, with Harkness taking first in the boys ski competition followed by Ryder Sluss of Weed in second.

High school skiers and snowboarders are once again zooming down a snow-covered course at Mt. Shasta Ski Park.

The first race was held Monday, Jan. 17, with 160 students signed up this season from seven North State high schools: Enterprise, Foothill, Mount Shasta, Red Bluff, Shasta, U-Prep and Weed.

Weed is back this year with a six-member team.

"We haven't had a program for a few years here at Weed. Last year because of COVID we didn't do it," said head coach Rebekah Sluss, who's also the school's science teacher. "We are so excited to have Weed High School back in the Alpine racing arena."

Last year's ski and snowboarding season was cut short due to COVID-19 restrictions and the ski park halting the last race.

Competition didn't start until the second week of February and spectators weren't permitted. Later last February, the former ski park manager ended the season after saying he received "numerous reports" from the ski patrol about some high school skiers and snowboarders being unsafe and reckless during a practice and ignoring warnings.

Geoff Harkness — last year's head ski-snowboard coach at Mount Shasta High School — told the Mount Shasta Herald at the time that none of the incidents that took place at the practice in question involved his school's athletes nor their families.  

New head coaches

This season is a fresh start. Both Sluss and Mount Shasta's head coach, David Nile Tuell, are coaching the two winter sports for their first time.

Nile Tuell, who's also his school's resource specialist teacher, said he's being assisted by Harkness, Brian Hoskins, and Yvonne and Sean Malee.

"We've got a pretty good squad of coaches," Nile Tuell said.

Assisting Sluss is Uschi Hill, who has racing experience. Both Sluss and Hill have sons who are skiers on the team, sophomore Ryder Sluss and freshman Andrew Hill. Weed has a young team with four freshman and two sophomores.

Sluss said her team prepares off the slopes by doing core and cardio workouts through plyometrics and other conditioning for stability and balance on the hill.

Cross coaching

While Weed and Mount Shasta are rivals during the regular Monday races, they're part of the same Siskiyou Union High School District and the teen athletes benefit from both schools' coaches.

"The Mount Shasta coaches are really helping us out a lot," Sluss said. "We compete separately for the high schools, but we practice as a team and then when we're having our races, we act as a unit too so we look out for all the kids."

During the first race Monday, Sluss said the coaches were all over the hill taking video.

Even though the ski park is nearby to the two Siskiyou schools, you can't say Weed or Mount Shasta has a home-field advantage. Practices are held Fridays and Sundays for all the teams with the course being set up by the Mt. Shasta Race Association.

"It's nice that we're in close proximity, but all the teams are coming up and practicing on the same hill," Nile Tuell said.

The team to beat?

Mount Shasta has a total of 25 girls and boys on its team.

"Right now our numbers are a little bit wonky just because of sickness and things like that," Nile Tuell said.

On last Monday's race day, Mount Shasta fielded 10 boys skiers, eight girl skiers, and one boy and one girl snowboarder.

"Our team is heavy on the skiers and light on the snowboarders," the coach said. "A lot of teams have a ton of snowboarders."

Nile Tuell said he thinks his skiing team will have a strong showing, and Sluss agrees, although North Division Coordinator Paul Schwartz called Shasta High a North State powerhouse by taking an early lead in the overall competition.

"I think we're the team to beat when skiing. We've got a fantastic team. Shasta also has a really strong lineup as well," Nile Tuell said. 

Last Monday, he said Mount Shasta had six of the top eight girls skiers and seven of the top 10. "That's pretty great, the coach said.

The Mount Shasta boys skiers took a first, fourth, sixth and ninth.

"I'm really proud of our snowboarders as well," Nile Tuell said.

He said the first race day Monday was beautiful and the course held up really well.

"It got a little bit warm by the end of the day, but other than that, it was just gorgeous and great skiing conditions," Nile Tuell said.

Affording gear

Equipment for skiing and snowboarding is expensive but the coaches said students all have their own gear. Some businesses help with sponsorships to obtain what's needed. One of the higher costs are race-approved helmets that have to be worn at all times.

Weed has a booster club, an adopt-a-racer program for local businesses and the team has done fundraisers by selling mandarin oranges. Coming up soon will be a sale of Krispy Kreme donuts from the Chico store.

"One of our parents is going to make a run," Sluss said.

Weed teammates

Members of the Weed High School ski and snowboard team, from left to right, Aidan Rhodes, Andrew Hill, Mossie Butler, James Alliman, Calum Scott and Ryder Sluss. Hill, Butler, Alliman and Sluss are skiers while Rhodes and Scott are snowboarders.

Skier Ryder Sluss of Weed said as an advanced skier, he's trying to finish in the top three slots at each competition. He knows a lot of the high school students he competes against from camps offered by the Mt. Shasta Race Association.

Freshman skier Andrew Hill was encouraged by the initial race.

"It was my first race. I thought I did pretty well," he said.

He said that while race days are Mondays and racers get to miss class, teachers will give them make-up work. 

Weed freshman Mossie Butler said he had a good showing for his first time. He said his goals this season are "to have a good time and qualify for state."

The weekly slalom and giant slalom events at the ski park will lead up to a state tournament set for March 6-10 at the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in Mammoth Lakes.

Jan. 17 race results

As reported by Paul Schwartz

FILE - Mount Shasta High School skier Madeline Towner skis to a third-place finish in an alpine race on Feb. 16, 2021, at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park. This year's ski and snowboard season started Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, with Towner coming in third in the girls ski competition.

Shasta High School

Shasta took an early lead with a first-place win in boys snowboard, second-place finishes in girls snowboard and boys ski to secure an overall first-place win.

Boys ski

Brice Harkness of Mount Shasta was first, shadowed closely by Ryder Sluss of Weed in second. Troy Chang of Shasta was third.

Girls ski

Mathilda Karlsson of Foothill was the individual winner. She edged out the top girls from Mount Shasta: Logan Malee, Madeline Towner, Angelina Malee-Koster and Ella-Sophia Coleman, who finished 2nd-5th respectively.

Boys snowboard

Shasta dominated as Trey Guillory took first, followed by Lucas Scott in second and Hampton Hightower in third, for a 1-2-3 sweep.

Girls snowboard

Ali Hurst of Red Bluff took first. Caitlin Beard of Shasta took second followed by Macey Grissom of Red Bluff. Red Bluff earned the win.

The next race was scheduled for Jan. 24 at the ski park.

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Mike Chapman is an award-winning reporter and photographer for the Record Searchlight in Redding, Calif. His newspaper career spans Yreka and Eureka in Northern California and Bellingham, Wash. Support local journalism by subscribing today.