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Ripp fights snow, wins title

Snow took center stage at this month's 2023 USCSA Collegiate National Championships, but not in a good way.

Held at Mammoth Mountain in California, excessive snow hampered training, competition and transport. Cloquet's Aidan Ripp - a junior at Paul Smith's College in upstate New York - said it was normal for 2 feet of snow to fall overnight. There's a photo of one of his teammates standing in a hole in the snow, over his head.

"It was nuts. There were like 30-foot banks on the side of our house," Ripp said of his team's 10-day stay there. "Everyday we had to shovel out and find out whether we would be able to ski."

Ripp described a perfect storm of snow, logistical challenges and poor grooming, as nearly 500 competitors from 65 teams arrived at the California mountains to compete for National collegiate titles in alpine, Nordic, snowboard and freeski events.

"We didn't know we were racing that first day until 8 p.m. the night before," Ripp said. "On Monday they said they were going to delay the first race to Wednesday, then Monday night they said the first race would be Tuesday because an even bigger storm was coming at the end of the week." What should have been a five-day competition got shortened to three days.

Still, despite bad weather, illness and skiing at 9,000 feet, Ripp excelled at the competition March 7-9, winning the 7.5K classic race and an individual national championship the first day at Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center. The Paul Smith's College men's team also placed first in the 7.5K race, with Ripp finishing in 25:05.6 and other teammates in fifth- and eighth place.

The Cloquet 2019 grad placed third in the skate sprint race on Day 2 while his team took second. On Day 3 he took fourth in a mass start 15K skate race, while his team placed second again. After the final race, Western Colorado edged out Paul Smith's to take the overall team win, with the Bobcats in second.

The entire Paul Smith's team left for Las Vegas immediately after the 15K, worried they wouldn't get out before the roads were shut down again, and thankful they didn't fly into Los Angeles, where some places were getting record flooding.

It made for an exciting story, but it was stressful, Ripp said.

"I've never had that feeling of a trip like that, wondering will the roads be closed, will we make it out of Mammoth or be stuck here another two weeks," he said.

But it could have been worse, he said. The alpine skiers got only one race - instead of four or five with several runs each - as windy conditions closed the ski lifts again and again. And their roof never collapsed. That was a plus.

"Who thought to put this in one of the snowiest places in the U.S.?" he said.

Although the competitive season ended with the championships, Ripp is still skiing because there is also plenty of snow in upstate New York. But not as much as at Mammoth Mountain, and that's just fine.

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