This is the eighth of a 12-part series profiling the schools in the Central Collegiate Ski Association. Schools from Michigan, Wisconsin and Alaska and Minnesota makeup the CCSA.
The surprising thing is not that a school in Duluth, Minn. has a Nordic skiing program; the shocker is that it took so long.
The College of Saint Scholastica becomes the first varsity program in this snow-rich town on Lake Superior, and former world-class biathlete Chad Salmela is the Saints’ first coach.
“There’s numbers (of skiers), there’s reliable snow, we’ve got a captive audience. People like Duluth. It’s a great place to ski,” said Salmela, who was hired this summer and is assisted by Brad Nelson and volunteer Andre Watt. “If you look at the city of Duluth, there’s pretty reliable annual snowfall and four regularly groomed ski areas just about within walking distance of the (CSS) campus. It’s a no-brainer to have a college ski program in this town.”
But until now St. Scholastica and the University of Minnesota-Duluth have only had campus clubs that didn’t focus on racing.
Salmela aims to put the Saints on the skiing map, but considering his late hiring and lack of scholarships to work with for the Division III program, that process may take some time.
“To be quite honest, I had very little time to even recruit. I wasn’t hired until July,” said Salmela, adding that the team will add a summer training program before next season. “For the time frame I had, we’re doing really well for our first year.”
Salmela does have a pair of young leaders on the men’s team in Duluth sophomores Jason Kask and Tyler Kjorstad. Kask is a transfer from Northern Michigan University who placed ninth in the 10-kilometer classic against stellar competition at the Grandview XC Challenge Dec. 9-10 in Ironwood, Mich. Kjorstad, who grew up playing hockey, was 12th in the sprint and 17th in the classic at the Saints’ inaugural meet.
“Putting a guy at NCAAs in the first year of the program is a tough job, but I’m not shooting for anything less than at least one of the two guys (making it),” said Salmela.
Kjorstad did not begin prep skiing until his junior year at Marshall School, where Salmela coached him in cross country running, but not skiing.
“In what can only be described as one of the most dramatic and meteoric rises to prominence in Minnesota high school skiing, Tyler improved from near dead last his junior year to second in the 5-k classic his senior year,” the Saints’ Web site touted.
St. Scholastica is inescapably young as 18 of the 24 men and women listed on the roster are underclassmen.
Freshman Megan Holmes (Gilbert. Minn.) and biathlete Ellen Anderson (Ely, Minn.) lead the women’s team.
“Those two girls, if they pop a top 15 (in a CCSA race), that’s a good step for us,” said Salmela.
Holmes, Anderson, Kask and Kjorstad will compete at the U.S. Nationals Jan. 3-7 in the Upper Peninsula town of Houghton, Mich.
Over Thanksgiving break, the team bonded at a weeklong training camp in West Yellowstone, Mont., then shortly thereafter made history in its first intercollegiate race.
Competing in a CSS uniform, regardless of place, was a thrill for the Saints at the Grandview Meet.
“We’re the first generation of this program,” said Salmela. “When we left and got in the van to go home on Sunday, I think there was a great sense of pride that we can hold our heads high as a new program and not get pushed around.”