Four Newburyport high school freshmen are currently trying to push a snowball uphill.
Matt Cote, James Kipp, Brendan Byron and Juliana Noce are the trail-blazing members of the Newburyport High ski-racing club, and they have high hopes they can turn this club into a Clipper varsity sport.
"It's just for fun," says Matt. "We're not trying to win state championships. We'd love to, but our goal is to have people ski race and enjoy it."
But there still is the problem of manpower. A ski racing team needs eight to 12 racers; as of now, the Clippers have only the four.
It's not been from a lack of trying, however. As the summer drew to a close, both the Cote family and the Kipp family, all avid skiers, decided they would approach the school's administration about a possible team.
"This summer we got organized with Lynne (Cote)," says James' mother, Pam Kipp. "We went and met in August with (athletic director) John Daileanes, and (Principal) Mike Parent. And we had a series of meetings and they were very supportive and said in this first year they would support a race club. To compete in a league, you need to be a junior varsity team your first year, then you move up to varsity after that. But there's a lot involved in terms of approval from the School Committee and funding and all sorts of things. So, this would be a good way to test the waters.
"We were trying to be self-funded," continues Pam Kipp. "And the way we did that this year was to piggyback off the Bradford Alpine Race Team's (BART) existing practices, so you can do training only with them."
For a $200 fee and the cost of lift tickets, the four racers train with the BART at Ski Bradford between 7 and 9 p.m., often doing their homework on the way there and then when they get home. But skiing is a tough sport and requires a commitment level similar to that of hockey players.
Helping with that commitment is teacher Kim Salathe, a competitive skier herself, who volunteered to serve as the club adviser. They then called a meeting at NHS to see how many kids might be interested in a team; eight kids showed up.
"People thought they might be interested," says Matt, who has been clocked at 70 miles per hour while racing. "But (other sports) took a lot of them. I don't think we put enough information forward for the kids and their parents to look at."
While Matt feels the commitment and the cost may also have played a role in the small turnout, this year's warm winter weather sure hasn't helped very much.
"I can see why people haven't had interest this year," admits James. "But we need more people to help it grow."
"The lines (at the mountains) have gone down a lot," says Matt. "People just don't want to spend money to go skiing on (fake snow). I think, if there was snow, people would look outside and think skiing. And I think people would inquire about the ski team."
"Bradford has stayed open through this horrific winter," says Pam Kipp. "Snow-wise and temperature-wise, they've just done a great job, so I really commend them.
"It would be nice to see a higher level of interest and more kids involved, to really take this up to the next level," Pam Kipp continues. "But it will be hard to unless there are some incoming freshmen next year."
Kipp and Co. may be in luck in that department, as the Nock Middle School has an extremely popular ski program that takes four busloads of kids to Bradford every Tuesday in the winter.
"I think if they get the word out, it will grow," says Matt's mother, Lynne Cote "I look at the sixth-, the seventh- and eighth-graders that are so dedicated to going to that program. There's a lot of good skiers. There's potential for them to do well."
"I really hope that this becomes a varsity sport," says sixth-grader, and Matt's sister, Margaret Cote. "So when I get to the high school, I can join in. A lot of my friends ski and they all want to join a race team. So I know there would be a lot of kids in my grade and the grades around me that would love to do it."
"Ski racing is amazing to watch," says Lynne Cote. "It's all them. They're going down that mountain, making split-second decisions on which way to turn and the next gate and it's remarkable. They're so independent and focused. It's all up to them."
And so far it has been up to these pioneers, but Matt is confident enough that if the team gets going, it could claim a state championship before he graduates.
"Brendan, James and I have been racing for while," says a confident Matt. "And I'm sure if we dug deeper, there would be people who have history in ski racing, or have tried it and might want to come back to it. It's going to start growing. Their friends will be interested. Families will tell other families, and there will be a lot more interest. It will grow from there to bigger amounts."