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A new era for local alpine ski teams

They're still a few weeks away from hitting the slopes in earnest, but as the combined -- yet separate -- alpine ski teams from Woodbury, Park and East Ridge prepare for their winter campaign with the beginning of dry land training this week, they'll do so under the direction of a new, yet familiar coach.

Kevin Seipel, a parent volunteer for the past two seasons, was recently hired to take over as head coach of the combined District 833 programs, slated to begin their six-week seasons on Jan. 5.

"I'm really looking forward to the season," Seipel said. "It's such a short time, it seems like we're just starting and then all-of-a-sudden, we're done."

Seipel is no stranger to the brevity of the alpine season in Minnesota. The 1983 Park of Cottage Grove graduate skied for the Indians -- as they were known then -- before racing for the University of Wisconsin at River Falls.

His daughter, Corine, skied for Park for the last set of seasons and begins her sophomore season on the slopes this year as a member of the East Ridge contingent.

"It all comes down to Mother Nature," the coach said. "There's only a few weeks where the snow conditions will allow teams to race safely."

While the "PWER" squad has a new name -- standing for "Park, Woodbury, East Ridge" -- and a new coach, it will also have a new season format, as will all the Suburban East Conference schools.

"Because of the addition of the new school, a change had to be made to how the races were run," Seipel said.

Now, instead of the South Washington Country teams taking on one other SEC rival at a time, all the conference teams will compete against one another at the same time in one of six league meets throughout the month of January.

"We'll be running four courses on two hills at one time," Seipel said, explaining the difference between the new system and the traditional one-hill dual competitions of the past.

The head-to-head scoring will be tweaked somewhat as well, but bears a similarity to the past. In the days of just Park and Woodbury competing separately against a team with each squad earning a win or a loss against their rival, with the "PWER" teams, each team will see their scores compared against one other SEC team instead of having all tallies tabulated against the conference as a whole.

"Individually, one school will go head-to-head against another school," Seipel said.

"Instead of seeing, say, East Ridge, placing wherever against the conference as a whole, it will be measured as how East Ridge did against Stillwater, or whomever they are selected to go against that meet."

The six-meet SEC schedule will be evenly distributed across Afton Alps, Wild Mountain and Welch Village ski areas. Afton hosts the SEC opener on Jan. 5, as well as a Jan. 19 meet.

There are still some matters to be ironed out before the first week of January -- the assistant staff is only half-full and Park has some slots left to fill amongst its competing ranks.

"Park is a few kids behind, but there's still time for those who might be interested to join up," Seipel said. "I'd certainly encourage any of those athletes out there to come on out. We're building for the future, so that includes junior high kids too."

Students in grades 7-12 are eligible to hit the slopes for their respective high school teams.

While Seipel has been joined by fellow Park alum and ski racer Brian Doyle on the "PWER" staff, the head coach said he would like to have one more assistant join the program.

"I started as an assistant coach -- a parent volunteer, it was called -- two years ago," Seipel said. "It's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun."

Those interested in either joining the "PWER" program as a skier or assistant coach may contact Seipel at