Swiss product Tanguy Nef '20 finds comfort zone in carnival circuit
Going by a single name rather than a full name identifies you as a “somebody.” Think Bono, Ronaldinho and Voltaire.
It was fitting, then, that Tanguy Nef ’20 became known as “Nef” when he came to Dartmouth from Switzerland in 2016. The Big Green men’s alpine skier and Swiss national alpine ski team member has been a force to be reckoned with on the carnival circuit this season, most recently winning the slalom and giant slalom at the St. Michael’s Carnival at Smuggler’s Notch this weekend.
When he first came to Dartmouth, Nef said he was unsure about what name people would call him by and how it would be pronounced.
“Before I came here I was like, ‘maybe Tanguy works,’” Nef said.
He quickly discovered that his first name – pronounced “Tongee” with a hard “g”— did not roll off American tongues. Nef now introduces himself by his last name.
A stop in Hanover might seem like an unusual detour for a promising European skier. But in truth, Europeans fill much of the upper tier of United States collegiate skiing, especially at western powerhouses like the University of Colorado and the University of Utah. Last season, four of the top 10 finishers in the men’s giant slalom at NCAA Championships were European.
When Nef broke his leg in a downhill race during his junior season of high school, he had to consider a future that did not include competitive skiing. Suddenly, a seemingly clear shot to the Swiss national team had become more complicated.
“I [thought] ‘after that, what am I going to do now?’” Nef said. “I can go to university, I can study or I can just do skiing.”
He had heard about a collegiate system in the United States where he could study while racing at the same time. It sounded ideal, so Nef reached out to coaches and was impressed on an eventual visit to Dartmouth. But while Nef had been off the slopes due to injury, his world ranking had slipped.
Nef recalled a conversation where he told Dartmouth skiing coaches, “Just give me a chance, wait for me in the season to perform.”
For about 10 months in 2015, Nef bided his time off the slopes, recovering from injury. When he got back on his feet, he showed Dartmouth coaches what he could accomplish when he was healthy. During the 2015-2016 season, Nef took second in a pair of International Ski Federation slalom races, finished fourth in the slalom at the Swiss National Junior Championship and competed at the Junior World Ski Championships in Sochi, Russia.
It was enough to get him a spot on Dartmouth’s team.
Nef said the atmosphere of the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association circuit — where ski team parents prepare snack tables at every carnival and competitors from other teams quickly become familiar faces — is a welcome change from racing in Europe.
“The vibes in the [European] races are like you start, you push, you do your best, you get the finish and no one’s there,” Nef said. “You wait in the cold, play cards, do your second run and play cards again, wait for the guy who tunes your skis, and go to bed. Here, it’s completely different, and that’s why I loved last year.”
He also noted the personal investment in the performance of his teammates. European racing, Nef said, focuses on the individual. Racers are nominally part of a team, but skiers are focused on their own performances.
In U.S. collegiate racing, while individual performances matter, overall carnival victories require well-rounded performances from the entire team.
Nef said rooting for one’s teammates is partly a product of the American mindset. Even in the weight room, teammates cheer one another on. He recalled feeling surprised during one of the first lift practices last season. While Nef was doing squats, his teammates swarmed another teammate who was about to do a one-rep max test.
“They’re cheering for him to do his max rep and I’m thinking, ‘He’s probably just the captain, so they do that for him,’” Nef said. “Soon I got to do my max rep and then they did that for me and I [thought,]... ‘I’m part of the team now too.’”
While training at Dartmouth, Nef has tried to balance pushing his physical limits with improving technically. He said he “wasn’t strong” when he came to Hanover and has improved significantly in the weight room. On the slopes, he has recently turned his focus to his turns through the gates. Pressing on the outside ski and staying low can produce cleaner turns, which translate into valuable fractions of a second at the finish line.
“I think his ability to see lines is really good,” men’s alpine skier Brian McLaughlin ’18 said. “He always seems to be putting his pressure in the right place.”
Success at Dartmouth and on the North American Cup circuit will help Nef climb the ladder of the Swiss national team. An agreement with the team allows him to remain a full member while training and competing in North America.
A trio of high finishes in Nor-Am races in Panorama, British Columbia in December 2017 — third place and fourth place in giant slalom, followed by a win in slalom — vaulted Nef higher in the worldwide rankings. The move made him eligible for the European Cup, the equivalent of the North American Cup in the larger and more competitive world of European skiing, as well as the Swiss national B team.
After discussions with Swiss Ski, Nef decided not to make the leap to the European Cup this season. Instead, he is aiming for podium performances in NCAA and FIS races, which will help Dartmouth win carnivals while boosting Nef’s point total and his world ranking. So far, so good for the Geneva, Switzerland native, who now has a second-place finish and two victories in the three carnival races this season.
If all goes well, he will be a key part of a Dartmouth team that betters last year’s fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championship.
“He’s just really relaxed and provides chill vibes on the team,” McLaughlin said. “When we need to be serious he can be, but when we need a light moment he’s also really fun to have around.”
With enough points, Nef may be able to bypass the European Cup entirely and move straight to the World Cup.
But for now, he is comfortable with the routine of the carnival circuit.
“You go to school, do the races … get your work done, keep going to school, take your exams and everything, and then escape again,” Nef said. “And I really like that.”
Alpine teams come up just short in carnival comeback bid
The Big Green entered the second week of the St. Michael’s College Carnival in a 46-point hole after losing significant ground to the University of Vermont in the men’s 15-kilometer freestyle. Although Dartmouth’s alpine teams beat the Catamounts in three of four alpine races over the weekend, the Big Green could not surpass UVM’s advantage. The Catamounts finished with 956 points to Dartmouth’s 946, earning their first carnival win since the 2017 Dartmouth Carnival.
“The snow this weekend was really good,” women’s alpine head coach John Dwyer said. “The courses held up extremely well, so it was really fair racing across the board— nobody had an advantage.”
Big Green skiers occupied the top step of both podiums on Friday. Women’s alpine captain Foreste Peterson ’18 won her second giant slalom of the season with a total time of 1:51.64 as she edged the University of Vermont’s Paula Moltzan by 0.14 seconds. Kelly Moore ’18 and Stephanie Lebby ’20 also scored team points in sixth and seventh, respectively, while Claire Thomas ’21 took ninth and Alexa Dlouhy ’19 took 10th. Strong performances from UVM skiers, however, made the women’s giant slalom the only event of the weekend that Dartmouth did not win. On the men’s side, Nef won his second career EISA giant slalom by a margin of 1.20 seconds over UVM’s Sandy Vietze. Thomas Woolson ’17 finished in third, while McLaughlin ’18 took ninth.
Saturday brought even better results in the slalom. Five Dartmouth names again landed among the women’s top 10, led by Dlouhy, Peterson, Meg Currie ’17 and Lebby. The foursome finished 2-3-4-5, while Moore took eighth.
Dwyer said the women’s team has established a strong foundation this season.
“It’s pretty realistic for us to have our entire team in the top 10 in both slalom and giant slalom every weekend,” he said.
Nef, the first men’s skier to take the slopes, was the quickest down the mountain in the first run, and he protected his lead enough on the second run to earn the win. McLaughlin and Kalle Wagner ’21 followed in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Dartmouth will have a chance to start its EISA win streak anew at the University of Vermont Carnival this weekend.