Despite Toggenburg Mountain Closing, Ski Team Begins Strong Season

Colgate’s Ski Racing Club Team officially began their season in mid-January despite the recent closure of Toggenburg Mountain in August and a COVID-19 outbreak on the team during their preseason prior to the start of the spring semester.

According to Ski Team captain and senior Maddy Leibinger, Mount Toggenburg closed in August after serving as the team’s practice mountain for over 30 years. The Ski Team was able to relocate their practices to Song Mountain, a nearby venue also owned by Peter Harris, the owner of both Toggenburg and Labrador Mountain. While grateful for having Song Mountain available to the team, Leibinger expressed that many are disappointed with the forced relocation. 

“Togg has been our home mountain forever, and there’s a few people who actually grew up racing at Toggenburg,” Leibinger said. “A lot of people, and especially the upperclassmen, were most affected by it. It’s been a big change, but luckily there are so many freshmen on the team who don’t know any different.”

In light of the transition, the team recently began their training at Song Mountain, located in Tully, NY, just around 20 minutes further from campus than Toggenburg. 

“Every time we drive to practice we pass Toggenburg. It adds an extra 40 minutes in total of driving time, which isn’t awful, but it’s been a little difficult I would say this year — getting there and getting motivated since it’s a new mountain,” Leibinger said. 

Along with the added travel time, Leibinger expressed that some features of Song Mountain and its facilities do not match the level Toggenburg provided. 

“[Song Mountain] is pretty similar, but Togg was great because they had a lot of local groups train there at night, and the lights at Song aren’t that great,” Leibinger said. 

Since they no longer train with the local groups from Fabius, NY, Colgate’s Ski Team now shares Song Mountain with Syracuse University’s Alpine Ski Racing Team. Coach Jim Longo of Colgate’s men’s and women’s ski teams explained that even with the different facilities, the transition to Song Mountain has gone smoothly. 

“The staff at Song are working hard to make Colgate part of their family and accommodate our requests and needs,” Longo said. 

On top of this major change, the ski team’s return to racing was halted by COVID-19 exposure. First-year student Audrey Lafrance explained that many members of the team had contracted the virus just previous to their first scheduled race on Saturday, Jan. 22, and were forced to withdraw from the race. When explaining this setback, Lafrance recognized the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 variant outbreaks and the ski team’s ability to compete. 

“We didn’t really know if we were going to race or not, it was kind of up in the air. Especially because we missed our first race—we got COVID-19 as a team. So that was rough, but we made it back and we’ve been doing really well. COVID-19 definitely set us back, but it was one hundred percent worse last year so I’m just glad that I came this year,” Lafrance said. 

Following the team’s exposure and quarantine, they competed in their first race of the season at West Mountain in Queensbury, NY throughout the weekend of Friday, Jan. 28. According to Leibinger, the men’s team collectively finished in first place and the women’s team placed fourth overall with several top placing individual racers. Among those placing first in individual races were captain Richard Casey and first-year Audrey Lafrance. 

“For the first race this season and missing some of our key skiers who had COVID-19, I think it was a pretty good performance and we have a good chance at both teams making it to nationals,” Lafrance said of the two teams’ placements. 

The Ski Racing Team will continue to train on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Song Mountain with weekend travel competitions throughout February. At the end of their season, each team will have the opportunity to race in regionals and, depending on their placements there, continue on to Nationals. 

“Both the men’s and women’s teams are doing very well. Coach Enders and I agree, this is as talented a group of racers as we have ever had. Each team has won a couple of our weekend meets and we are all feeling confident with qualifying for the Mideast Regional Championships. Both teams should also compete to qualify for this year’s USCSA National Championships at Lake Placid,” Longo said. 

Despite their troubles switching mountains and battling Covid-19 exposure, Colgate’s Alpine Ski Club Team speaks to a strong start. Weather and health protocol permitting, the team will continue to compete in races through the end of February.