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Spending time on the slopes

Carolina’s ski and snowboard team members teach fellow students to represent the University at competitions up and down the East Coast.

Several members of the team on wearing snowboards standing on a snowy slope
The team competed at their first competition of the season at Sugar Mountain Resort. (Image courtesy of the club ski and snowboard team)

On any given Saturday in the winter, you can see a group of skiers and snowboarders in Carolina blue racing down slopes, weaving through slaloms and grinding on rails in the Appalachian Mountains.

Carolina’s club ski and snowboard team is a group of beginner to expert-level skiers and snowboarders who travel regionally to compete against other schools through March. The group, which emphasizes competition and skill-building, has competitors who have been skiing their entire lives and others who joined the team to learn how to ski or snowboard.

“I began skiing when I was around 2 in the Swiss Alps,” says Keana Oldham, a mathematics and environmental science major and club president. “My dad is from there, so he put me on skis as soon as I was old enough to stand up and taught me. I grew up in California and went skiing consistently.”

Andrew Tilley, a communications major and the club’s vice president, on the other hand, grew up water skiing and began snowboarding during his time at Carolina.

“I always did water sports like water skiing and wakeboarding as a kid, but in the last few years, I’ve gotten more seriously into snowboarding and have gotten to the competition level,” Tilley says.

The team has more than 150 members, and 30-40 typically travel to each competition. This allows all members of the group who want to compete to enter competitions that match their skill level. While team members wait for their race time, they use the time on the slopes as practice time.

“We’re very big on trying to recruit people of all skill levels,” Oldham says. “We take people on trips that have never been down a mountain before. We had somebody race this past weekend, and it was only their second time ever skiing.”

At competitions, the students compete in the slalom, a race downhill between a tight range of flags, the terrain park, where snowboarders use the terrain to jump and perform tricks, and the rail jam, where snowboarders use ramps and rails to flip.

“We’ve found that experience is the best teacher when it comes to learning how to compete,” Oldham says. “We take people who have never been on a slope before, and they’ll place in competitions by the end of the season. Our goal is to build skills, but also a community on campus.”

The team also builds community off-slope through fundraisers, team dinners and community service during the off-season. And even when there isn’t snow on the mountains, the Tar Heels keep honing their skills with turfed ramps and rails that they use to teach new members how to stand, steer and jump in skis or boards.

“It’s important to us to perform well at competitions and represent the University, but it’s really about camaraderie and spending time together,” says Tilley.