Two young Stony Brook skiers are making names for themselves in the competitive skiing world, but competition is only part of the draw.
Sam and Astrid Sprigman have been sliding down the slopes for four years now, and although for the pair it’s mainly for fun, their competitive races have been paying dividends. Most recently, at the Otis Slalom Interclub race in Massachusetts, 13-year-old Sam placed third, while 8-year-old Astrid finished atop the podium.
“It feels good,” Astrid said of claiming the top spot. “Half the time I don’t even notice what happened or what my time is until my mom or dad come up to me and shout, ‘You’re in first.’”
Their father Jason Sprigman said those families who take part in the Tri-State Interclub ski season are part of a tight-knit community that is very supportive of one another.
“They’re screaming and yelling, banging drums and shaking cowbells and it’s incredible — she doesn’t even hear it,” he said of his daughter. “She comes down and starts critiquing her own performance, saying, ‘I don’t know, that didn’t feel that good. I think my turn on the fourth gate wasn’t that tight.’ And then I tell her, ‘you’re in first place Astrid, really?’ She’s so in her own world.”
The smooth skier said she’s always working on improving her technique, In fact, that’s all she focuses on while competing.
“I think about when I have to turn and thinking about my body position, making sure my head’s up instead of down and I’m always looking ahead,” she said.
That’s what she’s done since she first traveled around a mountain. Astrid said she recalls pulling on her father’s jacket asking to go on different trails during a family trip.
“When I see them doing what they’re doing and working so incredibly hard at an individual sport like this … it’s amazing to see them apply themselves in such a focused manner.”
— Jason Sprigman
“We went on the bunny slope and we were at the top of the hill and I said, ‘This is boring. I want to go on something more exciting,’” Astrid said.
Her father laughed remembering the moment.
“No patience this one,” he said.
Her brother was also hooked at a young age. Sam’s earliest ski trip was at 18 months old, when his family was in California.
“My dad and I were getting ready to go down the hill and he put me between his legs so he could guide me down the hill,” Sam said. “I looked up at him and said, ‘Dad, can you let go? I got this.’”
He said he didn’t ski for some time after that. His father was in the Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before Sam finally hit the slopes again.
“I remembered having a really good time skiing and it stuck with me all those years,” Sam said.
He too echoed his sister’s sentiment about being focused on improving. He said in reality, with all of the support, they’re their own harshest critics.
“When I’m in a race — when I’m at the top of the course — my instructor is there and I ask her what we talked about and what I need to work on, and I think about that my whole way through,” he said. “If I have a bad run, or Astrid had a bad run, the hardest person on us is ourselves. Everyone there is so supportive.”
The thing is, Astrid actually hasn’t had a bad run. The Under-12 competitor has placed first in every race she’s competed in this season — though she had to miss one because she was sick.
“You can’t ski race if you’re not 100 percent,” Sprigman said. “If you come around a turn doing 50 to 55 MPH, if you suddenly get a little bit nauseous that could be dangerous. She wanted to compete, but I just couldn’t let her. Besides the illness though, she’s taken first by a wide margin in every single race.”
Sam, a 5-foot, 10-inch, muscular skier placed third in the first competition of the season, at Butternut, came in seventh in Catamount and fifth at Otis Slalom. Last season, he qualified to be a part of the Piche Invitational, a Massachusetts state team, but the team didn’t have a slot this season. Astrid qualified to compete this year.
“There’s a wide number of kids that are moving on to higher levels of skiing from his year.” Sprigman said of his son’s Under-14 age bracket. “It’s one of the most competitive age groups in the Northeast. It’s an accomplishment the placements he’s been able to get. I’m very proud of him.”
The pair have one race left, at Bosque Mountain in Massachusetts March 5.
Sprigman said he enjoys the family aspect of the sport, being able to ski alongside his children, as compared to watching them on the sidelines during a football or soccer game. He said his main goal is to give them an ability they can carry with them for the rest of their lives, and now they’ll just continue to ski as long as they’re having fun.
“A lot of people might not let their kids participate in a sport like this because it’s fairly high risk, but they have a high degree of confidence and they understand the risk involved, and do a really good job of weighing them out and skiing appropriately,” he said. “When I see them doing what they’re doing and working so incredibly hard at an individual sport like this and I see my son really aggressively attacking a hill and putting it all out there and my daughter bending herself over backward to take an extra half a second off her time, it’s amazing to see them apply themselves in such a focused manner … It feels really good to see them not only becoming great skiers, but making amazing friendships while engaging in a fairly high level of competition.”