When Scotia-Glenville cross country skier Dan Stevens was in eighth grade, the school’s Nordic team was barely on the radar.
That was in 2006. The team didn’t place in a single Section II invitational that season, but it did manage a ninth-place finish in the Section II championship meet.
This season, the Tartans have one of the best teams in the section (second in every meet to Queensbury) and Stevens, a senior, is a big part of the reason why — not just because of his skiing ability, but also because of his recruiting skills.
“It’s due to a core group of boys that came from the cross country running team and strapped on a pair of skis,” Stevens said. “They’ve remained focused through the years, never given up and now they’re older and much better skiers.”
The transition began when Stevens started running cross country in the eighth grade.
“I made a lot of friends on that team and a brought some over with me because they weren’t as interested in running indoor track,” he said, mentioning Jon Zabin and Mack Trainer as two of the runners who converted to skiing with his encouragement.
The results began to show during the 2007 season, when the Spartans finished sixth in every invitational and fifth in the sectionals.
As his team improved, so did Stevens. As a varsity skier in eighth grade, he managed one ninth-place finish. He placed 12th in the sectionals and 32nd in the state meet that year.
As a sophomore, he had two wins, a second, a third and a fourth in invitationals, and he placed second in the Section II championships and 12th in the state meet.
His record last season included seven top-10s including two fourths and a fifth. He was fifth at sectionals and 14th at the New York state high school championships.
Prior to last Friday’s Mayfield Invitational, Stevens was top-five in every meet, with two wins, two seconds, a fourth and a fifth.
“He’s a team skier,” said Tartans Nordic coach Dirk Francois. “He helps the other kids, and he definitely depends on the team. If he was out there by himself, I don’t think he would be where he is.”
Stevens comes from a family of cross country skiers, and he started out on the trails when he was 4. When he was 5, his family introduced him to Alpine skiing, but it didn’t take. After his first lesson, he remembers skating cross country-style on his skis up to the top of the slope and skiing back down.
Besides skiing for the school team, Stevens also competes on the New York State Ski Education Foundation Team in USSA meets. These races are Empire State Games and Junior Olympic qualifiers. At the 2007 Empire State Games, he was the gold medalist in the classic race, and he took gold in the skate race the following year. He also won two bronze medals in 2008 Mid-Atlantic Championship races.
Stevens has qualified for the Mid-Atlantic Junior Olympic Team for the past two seasons. In 2007, the competition was in Salt Lake City, and last year, it was in Anchorage, Alaska. He was 69th in 2007 and 62nd in 2008, but those finishes were top-five among the 40 members of the Mid-Atlantic squad. The competition will be in Lake Tahoe this year, and Stevens was named to the 2009 team last weekend. He was also named to the New York state team that will compete in the Eastern High School Championships in Raingely, Maine, on March 20-22.
Stevens said he prefers classic (or traditional) skiing to skating.
“Anyone can learn to skate well pretty easily, but classical skiing is really an art,” he said. “It takes a lot of time to get good at it.”
Wax plays an important part in cross country racing, and Stevens and his father recently built a “hot box” for the purpose of waxing.
“It’s a small box which you keep at about 50 degrees centigrade,” Stevens said. “You let your skis set in there with a coat of wax for about four hours so the bases become really saturated with wax. It protects the skis and makes them much faster, and I’ve heard it’s equivalent to 40 coats of hot wax with an iron.”
Outstanding in the classroom, Stevens is ranked 13th in his class of 216 with a GPA of 94.
As a member of the Student Senate, he has helped to organize school fundraisers and community events including Thank the Troops, a goods drive to send soldiers in Iraq amenities they might otherwise not have. In ninth and 10th grades he was involved with
Relay for Life, an all-night community walking event which raised money for the American Cancer Society.
A mix of activities keep Stevens busy when he isn’t on skis.
He recently added hiking to his off-season conditioning activities. Last summer, he climbed five of the high peaks in the Adirondacks in 6 1/2 hours. He also enjoys playing pond hockey, water sports on Lake George and hunting turkey and deer with his grandfather. He is currently learning to play the banjo and restoring a 1986 Porsche his brother Todd bought when he was in high school.
After high school, Stevens plans to pursue a career in civil engineering. With that in mind, he has spent the last four summers an ironworker for Dimension Fabricators Incorporated.
Last summer, Stevens also spent time in Lake Placid training with the NYSEF team.
“From last year to this year he probably doubled his strength,” Francois said. “He put on a lot of leg muscle and a lot of speed, so he’s much lighter and quicker on his skis.”
But cross country skiing is not just a physical sport.
“Dan is going to go a long way because he’s so coachable,” Francois said.
“He listens to everybody, and he’s not one who thinks, ‘OK, I know what I’m doing so get away from me.’”
Stevens’ college plans are not set, but he is considering Clarkson and Northeastern.