“We have a snowboard team?” junior Oliver Stauffer said, imitating the response he got when he told others that he had been invited to represent the Wolverines at the U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association’s National Championships.
“It was pretty hard to hear that, considering that I pay team dues and race all season with the team,” Stauffer said.
Stauffer decided to accept an invitation to fly to Tahoe, Calif. and participate in the competition: “I really wanted to see where I stood nationally, but it was also a great way to raise awareness.
“The Recreational Sports Department agreed to pay my race fees, but those were only $90, the trip cost way more,” Stauffer said of his extensive out-of-pocket expenses. “It’s just sad because I went to nationals representing a school who was unaware that my sport was even a part of the University at all.”
Stauffer earned his invitation to the competition by performing well at the regional championship, which was held at Marquette Mountain in the Upper Peninsula. He competed against 20 other snowboarders, and managed a fourth-place finish. He was out of medal contention, but because the top five individuals are allowed to compete at nationals, Stauffer was headed to Northstar Mountain to compete against the best snowboarders in the country, including members of the Junior National Team.
“I placed 13th out of about 35 boarders after the first run, and I really wanted to make second team All-America,” Stauffer said. “I knew I had to go balls to the wall and shave off some time.”
Perhaps that mentality pushed him through to his impressive performance on the second run. Or maybe it was knowing that his father was a Swiss National Champion Skier when he was Stauffer’s age. Either way, he managed a time that landed him eighth place and secured him a coveted spot on the All-America Second Team.
“It was a major goal for me this year,” Stauffer said. “I was really adamant about doing well this season, and since I got tons of slope time and did tons of boarding, it worked out.”
Stauffer, who switched to snowboarding just four years ago, has been skiing for years and raced on skis in high school. This prepared him for competing as a boarder, because unlike many skiers, “most snowboarders are intimidated by racing,” Stauffer said. “Right now there are only three consistent snowboarders on the team, and we’re looking to recruit more people.”
“The ski (and snowboard) team is a great way to get out of Ann Arbor on the weekends. We all drive up and rent a condo at Crystal Mountain or Schuss Mountain and ski and chill all weekend,” said junior Jacqui Buda, co-captain of the team. “I’ve been skiing since I was two, and when you’ve been skiing as long as I have, you just get in the mentality where you want to race. The ski team is great for that, because it’s individually satisfying, but it’s also a great team sport because everyone can participate without hurting the scores of people who are very seriously competing.”
Only the top three finishers contribute to the team’s final score, so it’s easy to include all skill levels.
“We’ve got guys who compete at the international level, but we’ve also taught a few people how to ski,” Stauffer said. “It’s a really inclusive, friendly group. We compete, but we look out for each other, too. We’re all friends here.”