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No Snow, No Problem: Bruin pursues passion for competitive skiing even at UCLA

No Snow, No Problem: Bruin pursues passion for competitive skiing even at UCLA

By Emma Coghlan

May 24, 2013 12:35 a.m.

Kelsey Wittels is a top-ranked skier for UCLA’s club ski team, which manages to practice successfully even though it is based in snowless Los Angeles.
Erin Ng / Daily Bruin
Kelsey Wittels is a top-ranked skier for UCLA’s club ski team, which manages to practice successfully even though it is based in snowless Los Angeles.
 This article was updated on May 24 at 11:48 a.m.

Sunny Los Angeles is anything but a competitive skiing hot spot—for Kelsey Wittels, though, the two go together just fine.

She is not only a second year civil engineering student, but also a top competitor for the UCLA club ski team. Most recently, she took second place in dual slalom at nationals in Idaho.

Wittels grew up in Tahoe City, Calif., where there are plenty of slopes for her to course in her free time during winter months. She started skiing competitively at a young age and continued to do so all the way through high school.

“It’s a natural progression (from skiing for fun to competing) in Tahoe; for our elementary school trips we went skiing, then my parents put me on the ski team and then I started competing more,” Wittels said.

But when it came time to pick a college, she knew UCLA, despite its lack of snow, was the place for her, and she set out to study engineering. She considered other more ski-friendly schools, but did not want to give up a strong education for the sport.

Coming to UCLA, though, ended up being a solid choice – not only is she getting the education she wants, but the sun has actually increased her love of skiing.

“Now I appreciate (skiing) more,” Wittels said. “Here it’s a novelty, we’re all enthusiastic about it because it’s so hard to go skiing in L.A.. It’s more of a treasure.”

Once she got to Westwood, she found a place on the club ski and snowboard team – which is different from but often confused with the school’s board club – and has been skiing with it ever since.

While most club teams find a home at the Student Activities Center or on the Intramural Field, practice is slightly more difficult for club ski – without easy access to snow on a regular basis, it has to take particular effort to find a practice venue.

“They’re so enthusiastic that practice doesn’t have to be mandatory; they crave being out on the snow, so we go up to Mammoth (Mountain) and everyone will wake up early and be on the mountain when the lifts open. For a team it makes us really bond,” Wittels said. “It’s not an enforced practice because we’re just having the times of our lives.”

Paul McCarthy, an instructional program coordinator at UCLA Recreation who accompanied club ski to nationals, noted the effort and dedication that the skiers put into practicing.

“The cool thing I found was that the Southern California schools are one family. … They all go train at Mammoth pretty much every weekend,” McCarthy said. “They dedicate their weekends to traveling all the way there. … The dedication is great. It’s a passion for them and it isn’t work for them, and that really showed.”

McCarthy noted the whole team’s dedication to the sport, but said that Wittels was really something special at nationals.

“Kelsey was slightly different. (She) always got up earlier. I just noticed it in everything she did and the way she talked, and it showed in the results,” McCarthy said.

Many of California’s ski teams meet when they travel to Mammoth for practices, and while they compete against one another, they have also found special bonds in their shared love of the sport.

These bonds were never so apparent as when Wittels was awarded second at nationals. When her name was announced, all the Southern California teams – not just UCLA – burst out in an 8-clap.

“The whole Southern California league bonds together … When I went up to receive my medal, everyone goes ‘Ahhhhh 1-2-3!’ and starts doing an 8-clap. Even the guys from San Diego, they didn’t know what they were doing, but they joined in. It was just the best feeling,” Wittels said.

The combination of skiing and civil engineering would make for a difficult balance for any UCLA student. But Wittels is also the vice president of the club soccer team.

Her teammate Erica Slowik, a second-year global studies student who also used to compete with the club ski team, said that Wittels’ dedication to all her activities is astounding to those who work alongside her.

“It’s like I said, she bounces from this soccer in the fall and then goes to ski in the winter every weekend; she’s completely dedicated, she’s always out there, always racing, and it’s the same thing with soccer. You can tell she puts her heart and soul into it,” Slowik said.

Even though Wittels knows that she will compete less after college when she embarks on an engineering career, she is grabbing ahold of all her current opportunities to compete.

“I will ski the rest of my life. Competition-wise I didn’t even expect to compete this much in college. … But I think after college the competitive opportunities wither away. The peak of my racing is now,” Wittels said.

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Emma Coghlan
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