Snow or No, Skiers Prep for Races Ahead

December 26, 2015

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

TRAVERSE CITY – With the sun shining, and the mercury inching into the 40s, Carlee McCardel was enjoying what felt like a spring day of skiing Dec. 20 on the two slopes that were open at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville.

Except this was late December, just days before Christmas.

Above average temperatures, coupled with rain, put ski resort operators throughout the state in a bind as they tried to open their facilities before the holidays. A handful of resorts in the northern Lower Peninsula opened a limited number of slopes last week, although the weather continued to be a problem.

"I don't remember many Decembers where it's been this warm for this long and with so few opportunities to even make snow," said Ben Ferris, co-coach of the Traverse City St. Francis, Elk Rapids, Central Lake and Grand Traverse Academy co-op ski team.

That's why McCardel, a St. Francis senior and two-time MHSAA individual champion, was grateful just to be on snow, even though the slopes were surrounded by green grass.

Most teams had yet to conduct a practice on snow as of Tuesday. Traverse City West coach Ed Johnson was hoping to take his squad to Boyne Mountain on Wednesday, weather permitting.

Instead, skiers have had to embrace dryland training – weight lifting, running and plyometric exercises – to keep physically fit. Still, it does not replace practicing on a pair of skis.

"You can get all the conditioning you want," Johnson said, "but they're (skiers) not going to have the timing, and all the other skill development that they need to race and be productive and successful at it. We desperately need some snow time."

The first invitational of the season, the Harbor Springs-Petoskey Invitational, has already been canceled. It was scheduled for Jan. 6.

With snow not available, coaches are doing the next best thing – simulating.

The co-op team, which meets at Mt. Holiday, sprints down a slalom course on the hill, focusing on body posture, running the right line through the gates, and planting the outside foot correctly.

"We want them to envision what it's like once they get on the snow," Ferris said.

Now, some skiers have been on snow. Johnson, his son Austin and daughter Morgan led a group on a ski trip to Austria over Thanksgiving. The group included six skiers from West, plus a few from Traverse City Central.

McCardel and Central Lake's Ben Hicks, the defending Division 2 champion in the giant slalom, attended camps at Copper Mountain, Colo., during that same period.

Once the season starts, McCardel and Hicks will be two of the top skiers to watch. McCardel won the girls Division 2 giant slalom as a freshman and sophomore. She was edged by Houghton's Jenna Stein (53.04 to 53.31) last February.

"I couldn't have asked for a better high school career," the 18-year-old said. "I've achieved more than I ever wished I could. It's humbled me."

McCardel said she was not too upset placing second to Stein last season because she felt she gave it her best.

"I left it all on the hill," she said. "I was happy with how I skied. Jenna happened to ski faster that day. I was happy for her."

To prep for this season, McCardel has spent considerable time in the gym.

"She's put in a lot of time in the offseason, working on her leg strength, her core strength, to make sure her body is ready," Ferris said.

She's also been watching World Cup ski action on TV to visually "get into it."

The girls co-op team finished third at the MHSAA Final last season and returns the nucleus of that squad with McCardel and Sarah Trilla at the top of the lineup.

"We only lost one girl (to graduation) and we gained a fast freshman (Claire Kalajian)," Ferris said.

Hicks headlines the boys team. He's coming off an impressive football season, capturing first-team all-Ski Valley honors on both sides of the ball, even though he suffered a groin injury the first game of the year.

"Every week I would take it light in practice, not run that hard, and then play Friday," he said.

He still finished with 1,088 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns. He also had nearly 400 yards receiving with three touchdowns and returned a kick for another score.

"He's just now getting back to 100 percent," Ferris said. "That kid is so focused. He's such a good athlete and he's so coachable. He works hard all the time."

Hicks, who turns 18 next month, said he feels fine now.

"I’ve had a long opportunity to test it, ice it and gently stretch it," he said. "It feels almost back to normal."

Hicks edged his friend, Petoskey's Mitch Makela, to win the giant slalom a year ago (52.30 to 52.52). Makela also attended the camp at Copper Mountain over Thanksgiving.

The giant slalom is Hicks’ favorite discipline.

"It's a lot more technical," he said. "And I've always been better at it."

Meanwhile, Johnson expects to have another strong girls team at West. The Titans are the defending Division 1 champions. West lost Morgan Culp to graduation, but returns plenty of experience with Kitt Hornbogen and Claire Podges leading the way.

Now all that’s needed is snow.

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: Skiers, including Central Lake's Ben Hicks (125), compete during last season's Division 2 Finals at Nub's Nob.

Petoskey's Spence Caps Ski Career Among State's All-Time Racing Greats

By Tom Spencer
Special for

March 6, 2024

Let’s be clear. Marley Spence is the most decorated racer in Petoskey High School girls skiing history.

Northern Lower PeninsulaBut her favorite memory from the sport is not winning one of her five MHSAA Finals individual championships.

It is helping the Northmen earn Division 2 runners-up honor her junior year when Petoskey had just the minimum – four skiers — in the competition won by Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.

Spence has to admit the odds were stacked against the Northman that day on Boyne Mountain And to top it off, it is a memory that is connected to her middle school days with senior classmate and all-stater Sydney Hoffman.

“It was me and Sydney and two other seniors, and that was our entire team,” Spence recalled this week. “We had to do everything right to place second, and we did that that day and we were super thrilled. That was the highlight of my career.”

Quite a statement for the perennial Big North, Regional and Finals champion in the slalom and giant slalom. She has been a top-10 finisher at the Finals going back to her freshman year.  

“Marley has sort of come along in an era when we have not had as many female athletes in the program,” said Ben Crockett, who with sister Jennifer Crockett coaches the Petoskey ski teams. “She should be proud of the fact that a pretty small team was able to have collective success at the state meet.”

All of the time spent on those powdery white hills since the age of 2 has certainly paid off.

She was the runner-up in slalom and 10th in giant slalom as a freshman. As a sophomore, her accomplishments ranged from Big North Conference and Regional titles in both the slalom and giant slalom to a Finals championship in the GS. She also captured runner-up in the slalom race to finish that winter.

As a junior, she won both the giant slalom and slalom at the Finals while leading Petoskey to the second-place team finish.

And this year, she did it again. Petoskey did not qualify as a team, but she and Hoffman did. Spence and Hoffman have been teammates since middle school, and they both picked up all-state honors this year. Hoffman placed in the top 10 of both the slalom and giant slalom Feb. 26 at Nub’s Nob.

“It helps to train with my teammate because we’re all on one team and we compete against each other and (are) pushing each other,” Spence said. “We watch each other and can all learn from our mistakes and watch we do well.”

This year, Spence put together a time of 51.17 in the giant slalom, then 1:12.19 in the slalom, holding off some tough competition from Cadillac's Onalee Wallace in both races. 

Spence’s performance at Nub’s Nob allowed her to tie Eric Behan for the most titles by a Petoskey skier and set the girls record at the school. Behan collected his fifth in 2005.

Spencer stands atop the medal stand after sweeping the slalom and giant slalom this season.Spence also tied the MHSAA record for career Finals titles in Division 2, Class B or the previous open class, matching the mark of Christy Salonen of West Iron County from 1993-96. 

"From her freshman year on the team, Marley has been serious and committed to high school competition. At times, she has dominated high school racing, yet she is always respectful of her competitors. I’m very proud of her for exhibiting that character trait," said Jennifer Crockett, who similarly graduated from Petoskey in 1995 as one of the program's most accomplished skiers. "This season she had teammates who were not as experienced as Marley, and she really stepped up and took on a leadership role, helping them with course inspections and race day timeline management."

Spence had the luxury, and challenge, throughout her career of skiing against what many would consider the toughest high school competition in Michigan with Petoskey part of the BNC.

This year, Traverse City West’s girls repeated as Division 1 champions. Cadillac won the Division 2 girls team title for the second time in three seasons.

Spence intends to compete this spring in sprints for the Petoskey track team. She is thinking of attending Montana State University next fall and ski for the Bobcats. 

Recently labeled one of the best places for college skiers by POWDER magazine, MSU is recognized nationally and internationally for its snow science research.

“I might be going out to Montana State, and if I do then I’ll definitely ski,” she said. “It is very hard to ski in college – more than any other sport – because they bring in all the Europeans and they take the spots, but I am going to strive for that.”

As she wraps up her high school career, Spence reflected on the challenges of being a high school skier and noted slalom is her favorite race.

“I would say slalom because it is high tempo, and you have to think more about it,” she said. “It is more strategic.

“Sometimes it is hard to stay focused when you have so much going on with friends and other things like parents there, coaches there,” she continued. “Trying to keep a routine every race is what has helped me succeed.”

Part of that routine, as Jennifer Crockett noted, is inspecting the course as a team – something Spence will miss as it allowed her to mentor her younger teammates. But her impact on Petoskey's program, and high school skiing statewide, will not be forgotten.

“Marley has five individual state championships and there are only two other individuals in the history of skiing in Michigan to make that accomplishment,” Ben Crockett said. “Any review of the history would have to include her as one of the best to ever ski at the high school level.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Petoskey's Marley Spence skis a slalom run during the Feb. 26 Division 2 Finals at Nub's Nob. (Middle) Spence stands atop the medal stand after sweeping the slalom and giant slalom this season. (Photo by Sarah Shepherd.)