When Mission Ridge Ski Team athlete Clare Wise looks around her new home in Boulder, Colo., where she is attending classes and skiing for the University of Colorado, she often sees her old home in Wenatchee.
“Boulder is like Wenatchee a lot because there is so much to do with the outdoors so close,” Wise says. “There are hiking trails not even five minutes out of town. And there is a huge road biking and mountain biking community here, too.
“I’m loving it,” she says. “The school is great. The campus is beautiful.”
Something else feels like home, too: Hanging with her old friend and MRST teammate, Brooke Wales, who also is a freshman on the University of Colorado Ski Team.
The two took independent paths to Boulder but are thriving on being reconnected.
“Clare and I are really good friends,” Wales says. “It’s nice to have that comfort level with someone and be able to encourage and push each other. We’re good at getting each other fired up.”
The two are the first MRST members to be competing at the NCAA Division I level in some time.
“There are not many people from here who get on a Division I NCAA team in any sport,” says Ryan Shorter, the program director of the Mission Ridge Ski Team. “You need to be national-team caliber or almost national-team caliber to make a Division I ski team, at least in the Western states.”
Neither is the University of Colorado ski team your average program. The Buffaloes have captured 18 national championships over the years, the last in 2011, and have seen 50 of their athletes compete in the Olympics.
“I feel honored to be on this team,” Wise says. “It’s a great opportunity to step up to the plate and ski fast and be able to ski at that level.”
Story lines diverge
While the two friends share both a past and a present, they also are coming from different places.
Wales is seeking to rejuvenate her love of the sport after a stressful year skiing internationally. Wise is looking to put two years of injuries aside and get back to skiing without pain.
Wales, 22, who graduated from Eastside Catholic High School in 2009, trained at Mission Ridge for four years while living in Wenatchee during the winter months. After several top finishes in 2010-11, she was named to the U.S. Ski Team and competed in six World Cup events last season, with a top finish of 49th in a downhill race in Canada. She fared better in Nor-Am races, posting a second in the giant slalom at Vail, Colo., a third place in the downhill and another third in the super-G, both at Aspen, Colo. She also was third in the downhill and fourth in the super-G at the U.S. Championships in Colorado.
But she also found her love for the sport waning, so last spring she began looking around for a college. Her choices soon narrowed to the University of Colorado and the University of Utah, another Pac-12 school. When Colorado offered a full athletic scholarship, she accepted. She is studying integrated physiology in Boulder.
“I think college is great for her,” Shorter says of Wales. “She loves being a student and going to school. It’s a perfect situation for her to excel in.”
Of her international experience, Wales says, “I skied really well at times, but I was also really frustrated at times. It was really intense and stressful. I put a lot of pressure on myself and and it took the fun away for me.”
Wise, 20, has faced a different obstacle — injuries. After graduating from Wenatchee High School in 2010, she delayed going to college so she could compete for Mission Ridge. Between January and March 2011, she posted nine Top 10 finishes in FIS races, including capturing first in a super-G at Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho. But in March of that year, she broke her right leg and underwent surgery. A second surgery followed in December 2011.
Wise didn’t start racing again until this past March, doing well enough to take third (and the top American racer) in a FIS slalom race in Lutsen, Minn. Her return to the slopes was short-lived, though. A couple weeks later, she broke her hand during the Northwest Cup Finals at Mission Ridge when she hit a net.
She had long favored going to school on the East Coast. But after touring the region earlier this year, she decided it wasn’t for her. Colorado came calling and offered Wise an academic scholarship. She is majoring in chemical and biological engineering with an emphasis on pre-medicine.
In June, she returned to the snow at Mount Hood.
“My legs felt great,” Wise says. “I didn’t have to think about it at all.”
Shorter says Wise has worked hard to get to the NCAA Division I level.
“As a 13-year-old, I saw her talent and ability, but she has had to work a lot, too,” he says. “She has a really good work ethic. She never gave up. That was the key for her.”
The season at hand
From their base in Boulder, Wales and Wise plan to compete in Nor-Am races this ski season in addition to the NCAA circuit. They both anticipate being at the starting lines in Nor-Am races at Loveland and Aspen, Colo., from Nov. 26-29. The NCAA season begins in early January at Eldora, Colo., the Buffaloes’ home course, located 30 miles from campus.
Wise expects to compete in the slalom and giant slalom collegiately and the super-G in the Nor-Ams. Wales’ specialties are the giant slalom and super-G.
Their goals for the season with the six-member Colorado alpine women’s squad are similar.
“I want to take the team to the NCAAs and win a national title,” Wales says. “As for myself, I’d like to win a giant slalom title.”
Says Wise, “Oh, man, I just want to be the best teammate I can be this season. I want to contribute to the CU team, get points and help us be the NCAA champion.”
For Wise, that’s been the dream for awhile. She says she first thought of making an NCAA team when she was in sixth grade in Wenatchee.
And now that it has finally happened, how does it feel?
“It’s really been a fairy tale,” she says.
Steve Maher is director of AdventureWenatchee, a local nonprofit that supports “front country” outdoor recreation in the Wenatchee Valley. This article first appeared on the Mission Ridge Ski Team website at mrst.us.