Northamptons’ Charlie Denhart facing a mountain his style doesn’t agree with at state alpine skiing championships



Last modified: Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Charlemont — Wachusett Mountain and Charlie Denhart’s ski style don’t mesh well.

It features comparatively fewer pitches than the Northampton senior’s home course at Berkshire East and requires racers to generate much of their own speed.

“It kind of exposes my weaknesses. I’m forced to generate speed on the flats, I need to find ways to let my skis run, try and get as much speed as possible out of them, which is definitely one of my weaknesses as a racer,” Denhart said.

Tuesday will be the third consecutive season Denhart has raced at the MIAA State Alpine Ski Tournament at Wachusett.

He finished 38th in the slalom and 30th in the giant slalom last season after taking 69th and 37th, respectively, in 2014.

“The GS is really fun. I do struggle in it, but it’s got a nice top pitch section then a long, flat section with some rollers, which is fun,” Denhart said. “I’m not a big fan of the slalom course, it’s all flats, pushing to find speed the whole way down.”

Denhart has performed better in slalom races this season and attributes that to the training conditions at Berkshire East.

“Being in southern New England there isn’t much hill space to train GS and speed events. You get a lot of slalom training,” he said. “Especially recently with the lack of snow, the vast majority of my training has been slalom. I’ve improved my slalom game. Also in the high school courses the way that they’re set is usually the GS courses are longer than the slalom. I do better carrying my speed, and the shorter GS courses makes it a little tougher for me. I’m forced to kind of generate speed as opposed to getting speed from the hill.”

Denhart will be joined at the state meet by his younger brother, sophomore Jack Denhart, for the second year in a row.

They’ve been ski racing together for six years, starting on the Berkshire East Development Alpine team before moving to the mountain’s competitive team in the United States Ski and Snowboard Association.

In addition to racing for the Blue Devils and Berkshire East, Charlie also competes as an independent in the Mount Institute Ski League.

Jack also races for Berkshire East and has competed in the M.I.S.A., as well.

The multiple teams allow them and others to spend more time on snow and take more runs through set courses.

Northampton coach Trixie Wessel sees the benefits to racing in other circuits in addition to the high school season.

“It provides great training in terms of numbers of race starts per year so you can be used to being in a speed suit going through a timed course,” she said.

Because they’ve raced on so many mountains, the Denharts are adept at “slipping” a course, or studying it prior to the race start.

The Denharts will look at a course together at times but do take their own passes.

“Some people will do very thorough slips with coaches. I used to do that, but over the years I’ll go out with some of the other kids I race with, and we’ll talk to each other about,” Charlie said. “We’ll go through the course and identity some important places, talk to each other about it and figure out a game plan.”

Charlie will then take that game plan and distill it into key points when he’s waiting in the starting gate.

He thinks about two or three key spots and a broad idea of where he should pull back and when he should push it.

“I’ll try to do a brief preview so I’m not thinking too hard,” Charlie said. “Then I’ll also try to get myself psyched up a little bit, smack my poles.”

The starting beep brings out the biggest difference between the Denharts as racers.

Charlie takes a cleaner line down the mountain, trying to traverse the course perfectly.

That leads to maintaining a similar body position when Charlie maneuvers down the hill, and he tends to give more space at the gates.

“I tend to do better on challenging courses because I tend to ski a cleaner line and stay with it, whereas on a flatter, straighter course I have a tougher time generating speed,” Charlie said.

Jack skis with aggression, hurtling down the mountain in as straight a line as possible.

He’s tighter to the gates and looking for speed the whole way down.

“I have a better chance of falling, but I could be faster, maybe,” Jack said.

Constantly racing together and against each other hasn’t fostered competitive animosity between the Denharts.

“It’s more just fun, so we try to help each other out. I try to stay away from the purely competitive attitude,” Jack said. “Postseason maybe, but not for high school races. It’s mainly for fun.”

They play sports together throughout the year.

It’s soccer in the fall followed by winter skiing then a varied spring.

The Denharts played baseball for a while but have been switching to tennis lately.

“We do a lot together,” Charlie said.

Tuesday they’ll compete in a high school race for the last time together.

Charlie will be 20th down both the slalom and giant slalom courses, while Jack is 114th in the run order.

Each will handle the turns and the flats his own way.

“That’s one of the challenges of ski racing. There’s not always a best way to do something. There’s not always a perfect technique. There’s techniques that works better in certain scenarios. It’s mostly what you do in practice to figure out how certain styles of skiing work fastest in certain situations, certain terrain, certain course sets,” Charlie said. “You have to have the mentality to figure out when you’re skiing faster and when you’re skiing slower. You also need to be able to translate to the physical side where you’re actually creating speed.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com.


 

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