On Monday and Tuesday, Saratoga Springs senior Dan Rittenhouse came up with a great way to polish off his already impressive high skiing career.
He finished fifth in both slalom and giant slalom at the New York State High School Skiing Championships at Whiteface Mountain, and those performances were key to Saratoga winning its first-ever state team championship in Alpine skiing.
Rittenhouse has been one of New York’s top high school skiers for three seasons, and the champ-ionship was long overdue.
In ninth grade, after placing fourth in giant slalom and fifth in slalom at the Section II championships, he was named to the Section II state meet team. In the state meet that year, Saratoga finished second.
Rittenhouse didn’t race on the high school squad as a sophomore, choosing instead to concentrate on USSA races. The Blue Streaks were second at states that year, too.
Last season, he led Saratoga to the Section II Alpine title, winning two invitational races and finishing second in giant slalom and third in slalom at sectionals. At the state meet, the Blue Streaks finished second again, with Rittenhouse skiing fourth in slalom and 14th in giant slalom.
This season, Rittenhouse didn’t want the team to be the runner-up on his watch. According to Saratoga Springs Alpine coach Scott Singer, he’s been a “team skier,” with a goal from Day 1 of getting Saratoga back to the state meet and winning the top prize.
His invitational record this year included three thirds, a fifth, a seventh and a ninth. At sectionals, he was fifth in slalom and sixth in
“He does put the team first,” said Singer. “USSA ski racing is an individual sport, but in high school, you have to teach the kids to put the team first. That’s one thing we tell our team — if we all finish, we have a good shot at winning.”
Singer said racing that way isn’t easy for a high school athlete. It means holding back just enough to make sure you finish, but skiing fast enough to place high and help your team. Singer said Rittenhouse has embraced that philosophy well.
“He’s a very coachable kid,” he said. “He’s always looking for ways to improve himself, and he takes every single race seriously.”
Rittenhouse was this year’s Alpine team captain, and Singer said, “The other athletes learned from him because he always set such a good example for everybody else.”
The captain didn’t go it alone at Whiteface. Saratoga also had good performances from freshman Ian Hauser and sophomore Kieran Mottau. Both were new to high school skiing this season, but they came on board with lots of USSA racing experience. Hauser was 15th in giant slalom, and Mottau was 20th in slalom at the state meet.
Rittenhouse is also a gifted student, and in December, he received the exciting news that he’s been accepted at Harvard University.
Getting into Harvard isn’t easy, and Rittenhouse’s 98-plus schol-astic average and his class sal-utatorian status certainly helped, but universities also like active students.
Rittenhouse is a three-sport varsity athlete, and he has exhibited outstanding leadership qualities throughout his high school career. He’s a National Honor Society officer and has served as class treas-urer for four straight years.
Rittenhouse has been active in the community — not only in Sar-atoga Springs, but also abroad.
When he was in eighth grade, he organized an environmental awareness club which sponsored expositions around the city.
“We had an Environmental Fair with solar panels, hybrid cars and fuel cells,” he said. “We sold stuff and had raffles to raise money for rain forest preservation, and we had experts come in to talk about global warming.”
Last summer, Rittenhouse took his concern for others to Central America, spending two weeks in Guatemala, working at a med-ical mission through Refuge International.
At the mission, he served as a basic translator, took patient vital signs, was in charge of autoclaves between surgeries, counted and labeled pharmaceuticals and assisted nurse practicioners and medical doctors in primary care clinics and curing surgeries.
Rittenhouse heard about the opportunity from a friend who had gone on a similar medical mission trip.
“He was talking about it, and I got interested as well,” he said. “I did a lot of research, and I found the group — based out of Texas — I called and emailed them to set the whole thing up and went down.”
Of the people he met at the clinic, he said, “They were really inspiring, motivated people that just want to do good for the world, and it was great to work with them.”
Of the experience, he said, “It was really eye-opening. Just to see how other people live made me really appreciate living in America.”
Rittenhouse’s mother and father are both skiers, and he first skied at the age of 4. He started racing when he was in the fourth grade. His favorite ski racing discipline is super-G, but that high speed event isn’t included in high school racing.
Besides his skiing prowess, Rittenhouse has been an outstanding player on the Blue Streaks’ football team. The New York State Football Coaches Association named him “Student Athlete of the Year” for 2011, and he was named Section II Class AA all-star linebacker. At Harvard, he hopes to play football as a walk-on.
Rittenhouse will study economics in college, and he plans to partipate in Naval ROTC.
“I might go into the Navy after college,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of exciting opportunities that the Navy can offer.”
Just a few thoughts on longtime Schenectady skier Don Petro who died last month.
Don was one of the best — and best known — skiers to ever come out of this area.
He was the kind of skier you’d watch from the lift and say to others, “Now, that’s how you want to ski.”
In the 1960s, I had the pleasure of teaching for several seasons at the North Creek Ski Bowl when Don was ski school director. He was the ultimate technician, but he had a simple way of explaining all aspects of ski technique.
Those were the days before snowmaking, and from time to time, he’d take his instructors up on the trails for clinics. What I
remember most about him is that he always looked the same, no matter what kind of snow we were on — packed powder, deep powder (wet or dry), ice, crud — you name it. Once when he was leading us down the Hudson Trail “headwall” through some deep wet snow (and making it look easy), one of the instructors muttered, “Just like a damn Austrian.”
If there ever is a Schenectady Skiing Hall of Fame, Don Petro should be one of the first inductees.
UNTIL NEXT SEASON
There is still plenty of skiing to be had in the month of March, but this is the last Ski Tales of the season. Stay in shape over the summer, pick up your new gear on sale and buy your season passes early.