Meeting on the Mountain

by Bryan Frantz

Although the UNC-Chapel Hill Ski and Snowboard team originally got together because of their love of the slopes, their appreciation for one another has made them stick together even when there's no snow.

PENGUIN.

That's what Matt Mears, a snowboarder on the UNC Ski and Snowboard team, calls skier Caitlin Penry. Penry, one of the team's founding members, is not the one who was dressed in the penguin suit during FallFest, however--that was Jason "Granddaddy" Brown.

Spend enough time around the team and you might meet some of the other characters, including David "Stankalank" Stanley, Katie "DJ Katie G" Gerdon and Emily "Kosmo" Kosmala.

The team is full of nicknames and stories, which is fitting, considering they're closer than some families.

"The best thing about this team is everyone is weird," Brown, a member of the PR committee, says. "People appreciate weird, y'know?"

The team enters its fourth season this winter, and its members expect to have the largest team yet. While the founding team, formed in the fall semester of 2010, consisted of just three members, the team has grown significantly each year since. Team President Erin Lunsford predicts 40 to 50 members this season.

For a team with minimal funding and no coach, at a university located hours from the nearest mountains, team members are content with their presence.

"It's hard to have a big profile in the piedmont of the southeast," freestyle skier David Stanley says. "The people who really want to find it will seek it out. That's what I did."

Stanley, a sophomore computer science major, has been skiing for the majority of his life. He worked at a ski resort near his hometown of Asheville, and his father got him and his twin sister, Hannah, into skiing at an early age.

Brown, a biomedical engineering student from Raleigh, was similarly inclined to find a snow sports team. As a graduate student--hence the Granddaddy moniker--he didn't have as much access to the team's advertising on campus, which is often directed towards undergraduates. But his love for snowboarding and his desire to meet new people brought him to the team.

"I didn't end up joining until maybe halfway through the year," he says. "Then it became my life."

The team has become a priority for many. In just a few minutes with members, it's easy to see that it isn't just the love of the slopes that keeps its friendships alive.

During the summer, members of the team will meet up in the arboretum on campus to bond with their teammates through "hammock meet ups."

"Jason, at any time, has on him a portable speaker, the 'Jam Box,' in his backpack," Skier Olivia Serigano, a political science and biology double major, says. "So set up the Jam Box, get a Frisbee, and put some hammocks in some trees."

Serigano came to UNC-Chapel Hill from Long Island, N.Y., with Mears, her boyfriend of four years. Both seniors, she is the secretary for the team while he is the treasurer, even though they only joined the team last year on a late-night whim.

"I always say it was the best decision I made since coming to Carolina," Serigano adds.

As treasurer, Mears has revolutionized the way the team collects dues and supports itself. An economics major, Mears introduced payment worksheets this season, which allow members to check off which events they plan to attend and what expenses they plan to pay out of pocket. In return, the team can give members expense estimates for the season.

In previous years, members paid a flat rate, which went toward travel, lodging, food, lift tickets, race fees and other expenses. The problem with that system, says Mears, is that nobody knew exactly where their money was going.

"Last year the dues were 150 bucks," he says. "We collected them in October and by the start of the season, in January, we had all this money saved up, and we didn't really allocate it very efficiently."

UNC-CH sport clubs are required to raise a certain percentage of the funds allocated to them by the University, depending on their position in a tier system used by the sport clubs Executive Board. For this season, the Ski and Snowboard Team has to fundraise 100 percent of the $2,400 they were given.

In addition to the member dues, the team holds fundraising events at local businesses and participates in the UNC Sport Clubs Community Service Incentive Program, which provides sport clubs with service-based opportunities to raise money for their teams. While Mears says meeting the fundraising goal is not a challenge, he wants the team to aim higher.

"Our dues are going to easily cover the hundred percent of whatever that we need, but I would like us to raise a certain percentage of it, not including dues," he says.

For the team to qualify for the highest tier of UNC-CH Sport Club's hierarchy, they would need to compete for a national collegiate title with regularity. Team founder Emily Kosmala competed in nationals two years ago, and fellow skier Caitlin Penry often finishes in the top 10 in the region. However, the team does not have many other members who can compete among the nation's best.

Originally from Denver, N.C., Kosmala founded the team during her freshman year with just two teammates. It has since grown into a team that races five regular season competitions annually, not including regionals or nationals.

Though she has a background in racing, she recognizes that a team facing financial and spatial constraints such as UNC-CH's is destined to be more fun than competitive.

"The team atmosphere is what made it worthwhile," she says.

Perhaps Brown sums it up best when he says, "We have an unofficial motto--it's 'UNC Ski: We show up.'"

"We're really good at enjoying ourselves," Serigano adds.

Much of the team have lengthy histories skiing and snowboarding recreationally. Serigano started skiing when she was two, Stanley started when he was three, and Jack Roberts, vice president of the team, started when he was four, as did Lunsford.

Kosmala, grew up skiing with her three younger brothers on Sugar Mountain, a small village near Boone, which numerous members of the team call their "home mountain."

Still, they admit it's a challenge not having a mountain to practice on regularly.

"We don't have a coach, we don't have money, we can't practice anywhere," Brown says. "Our practice is the competitions."

"As competitive as we are ... it's way more about just going up to the mountain and hanging out, and much less about actually being competitive and winning," Mears says. "You know, we're definitely not against winning, though."

As vice president, Roberts is in charge of planning the trips to mountain locales, which includes booking lodging and organizing transportation. A junior from Owings, Md., Roberts majors in public policy and is working on a double minor of biology and sustainability studies.

He says the goal this year is to get a house big enough for the whole team at events. On previous trips, the team has been forced to cram into hotel rooms and condos, often exceeding capacity, and members have been relegated to the floor at night.

While Lunsford would appreciate the added comfort level a house would bring, she mentions a specific weekend in which the cramped quarters brought the entire team closer together.

It was her second race ever, during her freshman year, when the team was still young and only about eight people went on the trip. The competition was at Bryce Mountain in Virginia, and there had hardly been any snow on the course, so the racers were skiing and boarding on dirt by the end of the day.

"We made a team dinner of, like, giant pots of spaghetti," she says. "We all stuffed our face. We all fell asleep on the floor with the X Games on the TV-; we all just passed out we were so tired.

"It was just such a bonding experience, to have everybody living together in such close quarters and having such a good time on the mountain."

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