HANCOCK - More than 100 out-of-town alpine ski racers descended on Mont Ripley Friday through Sunday for the third in a series of five U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Mid-America races sponsored by Michigan Technological University as part of a three-year sponsorship.
The other ski meets in the series for 16- to 20-year-olds will be held elsewhere, bringing only name recognition to Tech, but last weekend's races brought bigger payback for the university - a group of prospective collegians just at the age to be considering their higher education options.
Les Cook, Tech's vice president of student affairs and advancement, spoke to the Gazette shortly after handing out awards at Saturday's medal ceremony.
David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette
Skiers stand atop Mont Ripley Sunday during the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Mid-America races.
He said attracting top students requires more than on-campus offerings, and noted that Michigan Tech-owned Mont Ripley is widely used by the university's students.
"Many of our students, the reason they come here isn't just academics," Cook said. "Our students love to ski and play here all the time, and it's always great to expose (prospective students) to what Tech has to offer."
According to USSA Central Region Board President John Manderfield of Hancock, who served as Chief of Race for the weekend, racers and families were responding. One racer from Duluth - a prospective second-generation engineer - arranged to visit Tech's campus with his family while in town. That family's verdict?
"They loved Tech," Manderfield said.
According to Mont Ripley Racing Team Coach Bob Vial, the International Ski Federation-certified Saturday races - which included mostly the same racers but counted for more in their quests to qualify for national and international competition - made the weekend's races the most prestigious held at Ripley since a USSA regional championship in the '70s.
Mont Ripley General Manager Nick Sirdenis, who has played a key role in upgrading the hill's racing portfolio since taking over a decade ago, said the USSA racers were trying to qualify for the national championships, and were only two steps from international competition. That, he said, should make them perfect prospects for MTU.
"The kids out there are all highly motivated, from good families, and the majority will be going to college," Sirdenis said.
Dollar Bay's David Rowe, a Michigan Tech Fund board member, led the drive to garner Tech's sponsorship and bring the race to Ripley, along with Manderfield and USSA Central Region Manager Brewster McVicker.
Rowe said the university was receptive and allowed them to use Tech Fund resources for fundraising, but did not directly donate any of the $10,000 needed for the sponsorship.
He and Manderfield worked the phones, he said, garnering donations from the likes of lead corporate sponsor Portage Health and Quincy's Restaurant. Eventually, he said, they raised the necessary money, economically garnering Tech some valuable exposure.
"By virtue of Tech's not spending a dime, we raised the money on their behalf," he said.
Sirdenis said Tech's next big opportunity to grow its profile through alpine racing would be to create a varsity alpine racing team. They already have a world-class varsity Nordic, or cross-country, team, he noted, but the alpine team remains at the club level.
The necessary race equipment, ski facility, coaching talent and grooming equipment are already in place, he said, and skiing works well with the federal Title IX requirement that allows equal varsity participation for men and women.
"It's all lined up, just a matter of them saying they'll do it," Sirdenis said.