Scotia-Glenville High School ski team members Erika and Gabbi Rodbell never go to practice.
Well, almost never. Practice usually comes to them.
The Rodbell sisters live on a 78-acre property in West Glenville, and their father, Donald Rodbell, has created a network of wooded and open trails around their home that the Scotia-Glenville Nordic squad calls home.
After school, team members are dropped off at the foot of the Rodbell’s long Ridge Road driveway. They then carry their gear to the top of the drive to meet coach Dirk Francois and assistant coach Colleen Stevens. Francois’ son, Avery, is one of the top skiers on the team. Steven’s son, Dan, the top skier last season, races for Clarkson University.
I visited the mini-Nordic center last week and found Stevens helping the young athletes prepare their skis for practice. The back of her SUV is like a wax room on wheels. Once the skiers were all there, the coaches sent them out on the trails in groups to work on their striding, skating and poling skills.
“If we didn’t come here, we’d be practicing in the schoolyard or up in Crandall Park in Glens Falls,” Francois said.
On this day, it probably would have been Crandall Park, because there wasn’t much snow left on the ground in Scotia. The cover was surprisingly good, however, up in the hills of Glenville.
“It’s usually about three to five degrees colder up here,” said Donald Rodbell as he watched the team head out into the woods. “We’re at an elevation of 975 feet, and it’s amazing how we can hold the snow.”
Rodbell is a geology professor and director of the environmental studies program at Union College. He was born in Amsterdam, but it was while growing up in Burnt Hills that he got his first taste of skiing in the Glenville hills. Then it was Alpine skiing, not Nordic.
“When I was a kid, my dad was a big downhill skier and he got us skiing when we were very young,” he said. “We belonged to Ski Venture [a rope tow area on West Glenville Road], so I guess I’ve got some deep skiing roots in the area.”
While still in school, Rodbell moved from Burnt Hills to the Berkshire hills in Massachusetts, where he was introduced to Nordic skiing. A former cross country ski racer at St. Lawrence University, he is anxious to pass his love for the sport to his children and others.
“I feel strongly about promoting Nordic skiing to the youth of the area,” Rodbell said.
“It’s a great activity for young people and it just takes someone — like the coaches at the school or somebody like me — to help that process along so you get young kids to like it. Pretty soon, winter is enjoyable. and you can be active and outside in the winter season.
“My wife, Cecilia, and I moved up here in 2001, and I always had this dream to have my own trails,” he said. “We’d cut a new loop every summer and widen them out some, but it was always informal. When our older daughter got into middle school and started to ski with the team I said to the coach, ‘You guys should come up here and ski.’
“Pretty soon, we had work parties going on in the summer and fall to cut new loops and widen the old ones.”
The high school team doesn’t have exclusive use of the trails.
“We don’t charge anything,” Rodbell said. “Any Nordic skier in the area that wants to come and join our work parties can ski up here whenever they want. We get some of the more dedicated Nordic types. Ski racers come up to train in the afternoon, as well as the high school and middle school teams.”
The skiers who use the trails race under the banner of the Glenville Hills Nordic Club.
“This is the first year that we are an officially sanctioned New York State Ski Racing Association club, and we race in the NYSSRA Nordic Series,” Rodbell said. The club has between 15 and 20 members.
The complex now has about four kilometers of trails, and it’s growing.
“We may max out at about five, but that’s enough,” Rodbell said. “There’s a couple of hills, and one’s a pretty decent size. If you do those over and over, that’s what makes a strong skier. You don’t necessarily need 50 kilometers, though it is more interesting if you have that many.”
Rodbell maintains the trails with a snowmobile, a groomer for skating lanes and a track setter for traditional skiing.
The Tartans’ hard work in the Glenville hills has paid off for them in Section II high school competition.
The girls’ varsity has finished second to Queensbury in every invitational meet this season, with senior Katie Zeppetelli and sophomore Ashley Forshey skiing in the top 10 in most races. Erika Rodbell, also a sophomore, has been close behind in the top 15. The boys’ team, led by juniors Francois, Ben Kraines, Alex Gilgore and Tom Zabin, has finished third twice with a fourth, a fifth and an eighth in other top-10 results.
The team next competes Tuesday in the Shenendehowa Invitational at Lapland Lake in Benson.
Tom Stetcher, who lives next door, helps out with the grooming, and some of the trails actually loop onto his property.
Skiing for Clarkson
Stevens, a freshman at Clarkson, finished third Saturday in a classical cross country ski race at the Ethan Allen Ski Center in Jerico, Vt.
Alex Benway of Queensbury was second in the race. Benway won the freestyle (skate) race on Sunday, with Stevens placing sixth. The Golden Knights took top honors in the two days of racing. It was the first USCSA Nordic meet of the season.
Frederica “Freddie” Anderson’s season started off wonderfully in December when the Professional Ski Instructors of America-Eastern Division made her the first recipient of the inaugural Einar Aas Award for excellence in snowsports school management.
Her season ended sadly on Sunday, when a 12-year-old snowboarder crashed into her at Maple Ski Ridge, shattering her ankle.
Anderson and her daughter, Christina, are co-directors of the Schenectady Ski School at the Rotterdam ski area.
Christina said her mother, who turns 89 next month, was standing at the bottom of the handle tow area when the accident happened.
Anderson underwent surgery on Wednesday, and her daughter said she is facing a five- to seven- week, non-weight-bearing recovery period. She said it was the child’s first attempt at snowboarding and he had walked to the top of the handle tow because he didn’t yet have enough balance on the board to ride the lift.
“I’d like to turn this into some public awareness about safety,” Christina said. “If you can’t balance enough to be on a surface lift, you shouldn’t walk up and expect to be able to balance on the way down.
“There needs to be more public awareness of how dangerous these big, stiff heavy boards are. People don’t understand that they are like a weapon.”
Christina said she feels that there would have been less damage to her mother’s ankle if she had been hit by a skier.
“It wouldn’t have shattered her ankle through the ski boot,” she said.
Ski team on TV
The U.S. Alpine ski team will be featured in a first-of-its-kind documentary Saturday at 8 p.m. on NBC.
The Audi-funded feature, “Truth in Motion: The U.S. Ski Team’s Road to Vancouver,” follows the team from summer training in Portilo, Chile, to the first World Cup of the season in Soelden, Austria, with cameras capturing every aspect of the racers’ lives.
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