Erika Swits has a simple formula for ski racing success.
“I just get out of the gate and try to scare myself,” the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake senior said. “That’s when I know I’m doing good.”
Simple or not, it works for her.
And, as a member of the Spartans’ Alpine ski team, Swits has scared herself onto the podium a number of times in the past three years.
In the tenth grade, she was top-three in five different Section II invitational races with four seconds and a third. She was also third in the 2006 Section II Championship giant slalom race. Last season, Swits had five podium finishes, including one win, two seconds and two thirds.
She missed the sectionals and the state championship meet a year ago because of a conflict with her USSA schedule. Besides skiing for the school in Section II competitions, Swits also competes for the New York State Education Foundation at Gore Mountain. She had qualified for the 2007 J-II Eastern Championships at Sunday River, Maine, and that event coincided with the state championships. She couldn’t ski in the sectionals because she had decided to pass up the state meet for Sunday River.
Maybe because she can go faster and make it a little more scary, Swits favors giant slalom over slalom. So far this season, she has continued where she left off last year. She posted a second place in the Glens Falls Invitational followed by a first-place finish in the Niskayuna Invitational and another first in the Queensbury giant slalom. She was fourth in the Queensbury slalom
And this year, she has her sights set on the states.
“For the high school team, my goal is to win every race at the sectionals and, hopefully, at the states I can get top five and make it onto the podium,” she said.
Among others standing in her way will be one of her best friends, senior Katie Hughes of Queensbury High School, a teammate on the Gore Mountain team. Hughes took first in the two races Swits didn’t win so far this season.
Swits welcomes the competition.
“At the mountain, we see each other every weekend and three days during the week, and we train together,” she said. “We’re expecting a lot of flip-flopping on the podiums this year, but we’re definitely good friends and we keep the sportsmanship there.”
Her high school ski coach, Joe Childs, said, “It’s always interesting to watch Erika and Katie each night, because they’re usually one-two in every race. It’s to the point where the boys are saying, ‘OK, how close are they [to us]?’, because they’re chomping at the heels of most of the upper level boy skiers.”
Erika said, “Ski racing is an individual sport which makes the competition quite serious, but then there’s the team aspect, which I like, because there’s a team award at the end.”
It’s also a family sport for her, because her sister, Kirstin, a junior, and her brother, Justin, a seventh grader, also ski for Gore Mountain and the high school team.
Their first coach was their father, Dave, who also coaches at Gore Mountain. He was the Spartans’ head coach for three seasons, before turning the job over to Childs this season.
Dave Swits traces the family’s skiing history back to Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam, where the Schenectady Ski School is headed by Freddie Anderson.
Swits started to ski in Anderson’s program when he was 5 and he later taught at the area. “I’ve taken that path right down to my kids and they all grew up in Freddie’s program — the girls until they were 7 or 8 — and then we moved to Gore.”
That’s when the three children got into racing.
“I wasn’t good at all when I first started, but I worked really hard for a couple of years to get where I am,” Erika said.
Childs said he finds Erika to be very coachable.
“She’s very open-minded and receptive to correction.”
Her father said, “Erika has a very focused, ‘I’m going to do this’ mentality that says ‘I’m going to work hard and be successful.’ The competitiveness that she has really has helped her in skiing and it has helped her in field hockey.”
His daughter has always had a passion for two sports, he pointed out, but at first it was soccer and skiing. When indoor soccer began to cut into Erika’s skiing time, she switched to field hockey and became fully committed to skiing in the winter months.
Melissa Thomas, BH-BL field hockey coach, is glad she made the move. Swits was her leading scorer this year with 11 goals and seven assists.
“She’s a very committed kid, always trying to push herself to do better,” Thomas said. “She was pretty tough on herself in times when maybe she didn’t play as great as she had hoped.”
Thomas said Swits looked very surprised this year when she learned that her teammates had elected her co-captain.
“She realized then that people had looked up to her over the past several years and respected her.
“She did a very good job of leading, especially with the younger players on the team. She always said things to them in a very positive way.”
As a player, Thomas said Swits is very quick and always in the right place at the right time to score a goal.
“People would look at her and think she’s kind of a petite female, but she’s very aggressive and very tough. mentally and physically.”
Swits demonstrated that to her coach last fall at the end of field hockey season.
“During practice before our
regional championship game [against Camden], Erika sustained a serious injury when a ball smashed into her finger,” Thomas said.
She had a broken bone, and staples were required to close the skin wound.
“I thought there was no way possible this kid is going to play tomorrow when I saw how bad her finger looked,” Thomas said.
“I showed up at her parents’ house the next morning for our team breakfast, and her mother said she wanted to play because it was her last game as a senior and she didn’t want to let the team down.”
Swits suited up and went to the game with the heavily bandaged finger under a glove.
“She played every single minute of that game, and the other team never even knew. She showed no hesitation at all,” Thomas said.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, Camden won the game, 1-0.
Swits doesn’t have a lot of time for hobbies, and said, “Sports is a big thing and I like being outdoors. If I’m not racing I’m usually just free skiing.”
With the extra time she has, she does volunteer work through Saratoga Hospital at an area Urgent Care Center.
“I’m planning on majoring in
biology in college so I wanted to get some experience there,” she said.
Colleges she is considering include Union, St. Lawrence, Boston College and Fordham.
“I chose my colleges based on their academic programs,” she said. “I haven’t decided if I want to play field hockey or ski, but if the option is open, I’d definitely do it.”
And whatever college she chooses, the school will be better for it.
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