Big Green-University of Vermont rivalry takes center stage again

by Evan Morgan | 2/5/18 2:15am

Perhaps it was fate that Dartmouth and the University of Vermont would come to rival each other in skiing. After all, the two schools are less than 100 miles apart. Both are quintessentially New England universities known for their outdoorsy students. Even their colors — the vibrant Dartmouth green and the bluer, paler UVM green­­ — are nearly the same.

Fifteen schools compete in Eastern Intercollegiate Skiing Association carnivals, but on any given weekend — at least in the past decade — only the Big Green and the Catamounts are true threats to win. The last time another team captured a carnival crown was when Middlebury College edged UVM by three points in the 2008 University of Vermont Carnival.

This season, UVM and Dartmouth are neck and neck. The Big Green won the Colby College Carnival by 20 points, but UVM edged Dartmouth by 10 at the St. Michael’s College Carnival the next weekend. On Friday and Saturday, the Big Green beat the Catamounts on their home turf, 969-932.

“It’s a good rivalry because we push each other,” men’s alpine head coach Peter Dodge said. “We’re pushing them, they’re pushing us.”

But where there’s rivalry, there isn’t bad blood. The tight-knit bonds of the skiing community — and the logistics of ski racing in New England — mean that competition happens on relatively friendly terms.

The circle of Eastern ski coaches is close, Dodge said. Often, the coaches’ skiers also know one another from competition before college. And because skiing is not a mainstream sport like football or basketball, carnival organization is left to the teams.

“We all have to get together to make [carnivals] happen,” Dodge said. “I might be the course setter at the UVM Carnival and the UVM coach might be the referee.”

Parity between the Dartmouth and UVM has been relatively rare in the past decade. From 2007 to 2010, Dartmouth won every carnival with the exception of the Middlebury win in 2008. The Big Green also won the NCAA Championship in 2007. After 2010, though, the pendulum swung to the Catamounts. UVM won the NCAA Championship in 2012 and proceeded to sweep the next three carnival seasons. But Dartmouth was always a close second. The College returned to form last season by winning every meet but the Dartmouth Carnival.

Even within the small world of skiing, head coach of women’s Nordic Cami Thompson Graves said, UVM and Dartmouth recruit from slightly different populations. UVM offers athletic scholarships and sometimes brings in older athletes who have experience racing after high school. Dartmouth, which does not offer athletic scholarships due to Ivy League restrictions, looks to bring in athletes directly out of high school, Thompson Graves noted.

Official Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association rules base the carnival season around the UVM and Dartmouth Carnivals, traditionally held in the third and fourth weeks of the season, respectively. According to Dodge and Graves, the competition in Stowe, Vermont often feels like a turning point.

“It feels like UVM and Dartmouth Carnivals are the Wimbledon and French Open of the ski season,” Dodge said.

The first two carnivals build up to the key events in Stowe and Hanover, according to the coaches. The hosts of the fifth carnival of the season rotates between Williams College and Middlebury, giving Big Green skiers a breather before the final carnival, which doubles as the regional championship. To consistently win carnivals, a team needs to be strong in several of the four disciplines — men’s and women’s alpine and men’s and women’s cross country.

“Some years all four teams are strong and you’re doing well,” Dodge said. “Other years one half might not be as strong or rebuilding and then we lose some points.”

Through the first three carnivals of the 2018 season, three Dartmouth teams — men’s alpine, women’s alpine and women’s Nordic — have an edge on UVM.

The Catamounts’ Paula Moltzan, a past World Cup competitor and the 2017 NCAA slalom winner, has been a top contender in women’s alpine this season. At UVM this weekend, Moltzan won both the slalom and the giant slalom by multiple-second margins. But Dartmouth boasts its own World Cup competitor in Foreste Peterson ’18 and a deeper team. Peterson, Meg Currie ’17, Alexa Dlouhy ’19 and Kelly Moore ’18 are the core of a Dartmouth squad that has won all but one team event this season.

Tanguy Nef ’20 has torn up the slopes this season, leading the way for a men’s alpine team that, like the women, is the top squad in the EISA. Despite a DNF in Friday’s giant slalom, Nef won the slalom on Saturday and has now won three of the five carnival races this season. Thomas Woolson ’17 and Brian McLaughlin ’18, who made his World Cup debut in December, have been close behind Nef, helping the men’s alpine team take first in the Colby and St. Michael’s carnivals. UVM’s Max Roeisland rivals Nef as the top men’s alpine skier this season. While the Catamounts’ Sandy Vietze has put up the strongest results of his career in his senior season, UVM’s lack of a consistent third threat has given Dartmouth the edge so far.

The women’s Nordic team is so deep that even with three top skiers — Lydia Blanchet ’19, Lauren Jortberg ’20 and Sofia Shomento ’21— competing at the Junior World Ski Championships in Switzerland, the group still swept team honors at UVM. The Catamounts’ Alayna Sonnesyn has won every race this season, but Dartmouth has come out ahead in stiff competition.

Men’s Nordic has the most crowded field of the four disciplines. Dartmouth has a strong core of skiers and has won two of the five team events this season. But Vermont, a much less consistent group, got the better of the Big Green at Colby, and Middlebury has beaten both the Catamounts and the Big Green on two occasions. With half the season left to go, the race for team leader remains wide open.