In a Competitive League, Mules Ski to Win

Colby’s Alpine and Nordic ski teams tackle dramatically different terrain, but they have one thing in common: a culture of success

Lydia Riddell '25 competes during the first run of the women’s giant slalom during the NCAA Skiing Championships held at Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, N.Y., March 8, 2023.
By Kayla Voigt '14Photography by Dustin Satloff '15
March 20, 2023

When the world narrows from a snowy trail down to a deep breath and the starting gun, there’s only one thing to do: go.

It was a challenging season weather-wise for both Colby’s Alpine and Nordic ski teams, but that didn’t stop either team from achieving remarkable success, making both top contenders in the Northeast.

In a testament to that success, six skiers represented Colby in the NCAA Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y., March 8-11.

The Alpine team wrapped up the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association carnival season with multiple top-three finishes and several podium grabs on the women’s side. Ella Spear ’24 placed third at the Williams giant slalom Feb. 17 to help clinch a first-place win for the team—the first podium win for the Mules since 2020.

Spear and teammate Lydia Riddell ’25 competed at the NCAA Championships, joined by men’s star Chauncey Morgan ’23.

The Nordic team finished in fifth place at the Eastern Collegiate Championships Feb. 24. Zach Nemeth ’24 posted consistent top-10 results across this season’s carnival circuit against world-class skiers from Division I institutions. He competed alongside teammates Jack Young ’25 and women’s star Gretta Scholz ’24  in Lake Placid. 

“We’re operating at a really high level,” said Head Alpine Ski Coach Eric Harlow. “This is a really hard sport. We have some of the toughest trails in the country, and the competitiveness is outrageous. And these kids show up and chuck themselves down the mountain every single day.”

Head Nordic Ski Coach Tracey Cote agreed. “In the East, you really are up against some of the best skiers in the country. We’re competing against World Cup and Olympic skiers. When we get a kid on the podium, it’s a really big deal.” 

Zach Nemeth '24
Zach Nemeth ’24 competes in the 20km classic mass start during the NCAA Skiing Championships held at Mt. Van Hoevenberg in North Elba, N.Y.
A second chance for success

For Spear, an environmental policy major and economics minor, this season feels like a second chance after two challenging pandemic years. 

“There’s a new level of expectation we have for ourselves and each other,” said Spear. “Our season is long, from October to April. We drive all the way to Sugarloaf and back every day. So we’re pushing each other. My teammates are some of the highest competitors at the carnival races when we go, and I find it really motivating.”

Eric Harlow and Lydia Riddell '25
Colby Head Alpine Ski Coach Eric Harlow speaks with Lydia Riddell ’25 during a course inspection before the first run of the women’s giant slalom race.

Harlow taps into this friendly competitive spirit as a core part of training. “My philosophy is about always being prepared to compete. Everyone is competing against themselves, but they’re also competing for roster spots, and that can go two ways. You can compete against each other or you can find a way to lift each other up,” he said. “Competition is so important, but there’s a second layer where you’re leaving the field with your arm around your teammate with the grace to say, ‘Job well done today.’”

This kind of competition gets the team fired up for bigger carnival days, but it also fosters a sense of appreciation for the people pushing you to be your best, Spear said. “We’re so supportive of each other. One of the most special moments in my Colby career was after making the podium at Williams, and the whole team rushed over and celebrated with me. There’s no cooler feeling than having your teammates support you like that.”

A positive culture that gets results

Cote prefers to pay attention to the people behind the scores than the results. “I really believe that if you work hard and hold yourself and your teammates to a high standard, the results will come,” she said. “If I didn’t have to make decisions on carnival spots, I don’t think I’d ever look at the results.”

What this looks like in action is a team focused on building better people, not just better skiers. “The team culture we’ve been able to develop has been about building a positive, supportive environment that propels us forward,” said Cote. “It’s something I’m really proud of and continue to be excited about.”

The Nordic team starts training in the fall, well before snowmaking begins at Quarry Road Trails in Waterville. The team takes advantage of the scenery Maine has to offer, driving all over the state for scenic roller ski loops and mountain runs, which are as grueling as they sound. Said Cote, “There’s no reason that we can’t have an environment that supports athletes at the highest level so that when a top skier comes in, they can be successful.”

Enter Erin Bianco ’22, who is completing her first post-graduate ski season on the professional circuit as a member of Minnesota’s Team Birkie.

“It was a high level of competition, but also a really fun team to be on. No spot is ever guaranteed, so you’ve got to give it your best every single time,” said Bianco. “I was so proud to go to NCAAs last year with a full women’s team and place in the top 10. When you have the space to be yourself and be welcomed, then I think you perform at a much higher level, and I really felt that on Colby’s team.”

Assistant Coach Sophia Gorman ’22 and Head Nordic Ski Coach Tracey Cote
Assistant Coach Sophia Gorman ’22, center, and Head Nordic Ski Coach Tracey Cote wax skis in the wax cabin.

Bianco joined the coaching staff to support the Mules at this year’s NCAA Championships. “It’s definitely been a learning experience for me to focus so much on skiing as a professional athlete, and I feel like the jumps I’ve made this season come from the years of training at Colby and the confidence I gained on the team,” she said.

While the day-to-day training and competition look very different for the two teams, both coaches look to build a well-rounded person, not just a great athlete. 

“There’s so much respect between our two teams. Tracey has been a real mentor to me since I joined the College in 2020,” said Harlow. “My goal is to create a program that allows kids to pursue their dreams within this construct of a rigorous academic experience.”

Said Cote, “If I’ve done my job, I’ve given my team the tools they’ll need in life and in their professional career well beyond Colby. That’s what matters.”

Head Nordic Ski Coach Tracey Cote
Head Nordic Ski Coach Tracey Cote in the wax cabin at the NCAA Skiing Championships in North Elba, N.Y.