Foreste Peterson and the Dartmouth Ski Team
The road to becoming a ski racer is sometimes a buffed-out groomer, sometimes a mogul field, and sometimes a triple black diamond trip through the unforgiving backcountry. This year we’ll take a look at a few ways kids are finding their way down the unpredictable course of a ski racing career. Parents, pay attention.
Foreste Peterson moves through a gray New England day like a ray of California sunshine. It’s more than just the big smile and the thicket of golden hair. She has a glow of positive energy, and, as one of her coaches describes, “that rare ability to make people feel good about themselves in her presence.”
Recently, the Dartmouth sophomore and Berkeley, Calif., native used a precious window of time between class and dryland training to sit down and talk about a ski racing journey that has already taken her around the world and, for now, across the country.
Masking Goggle Tans with Makeup
Foreste and her older sister, Hilary, grew up as second-generation weekend warriors, trekking to their grandparents’ Squaw Valley cabin every Friday night to join the resort’s fabled Mighty Mite program. Their father, Dick Peterson, had developed a skiing addiction throughout his youth, even taking a quarter off from Berkeley to ski race. Their mother, Barbara, was a member of the first class at Stratton Mountain School.
When Dick and Barbara married and settled together in the Berkeley hills, skiing was a natural part of their lifestyle. In 1990, they built their dream house. Eleventh months later, it burned to the ground in the massive East Bay Hills Fire. The Petersons rebuilt, and two years later, moved into the new house with a new baby on the way. They knew, boy or girl, that the name would pay tribute to what they lost and learned from the fire. On Sept. 9, 1993, Foreste was born.
As a young ski racer, Foreste also pursued the elite gymnastic track, but by the time she was 10, pressure from those coaches to specialize was so great that she was masking her goggle tan with makeup. Foreste opted out of gymnastics, “a decision that thrilled us,” Dick admits, but the poise, athleticism and discipline of gymnastics had made its mark. “Foreste’s strength has been her ability to work hard and to be goal-oriented,” explains Dick. “When she puts her mind to something, she wants to be at the very top.”
Racing up the junior ranks, Foreste hit the milestones of junior skiing stardom, qualifying for prestigious events such as the Trofeo Topolino and the Whistler Cup, and winning Junior Olympics. Her coach Hermann Gollner describes her as “the dream athlete, with dedication, commitment, bravery, motivation and training capacity off the charts.”
In 2010, after reaching the junior podium in both GS and combined at the U.S. Nationals, the high school sophomore earned an invitation to a U.S. Ski Team camp in Bachelor — and, ultimately, a spot on the U.S. Development team.
The Moffat Plan
So there would be travel. But instead of choosing a ski academy, Foreste chose what she calls the “Moffat Plan” blazed by fellow Berkeleyite Keith Moffat, two years her senior. Moffat pursued independent study through public Berkeley High School, qualified for the U.S. Ski Team and got in to Dartmouth College.
The plan, while enviable, required extraordinary motivation and independence. When her AP Chemistry teacher balked at Foreste’s ability to take the course while traveling the globe, Foreste took her case to the school district, won the right to stay in the course and ended up acing not only the course but also the College Board Chemistry Achievement Test.
After a rough start (she broke her ankle going in to her first season with the U.S. Ski Team), Foreste bounced around amidst a big group of girls, eventually settling into her comfort zone in the tech events as part of a small, elite group.
The intensity did not beget the progress she hoped to make.
“All four years, I was at a different level, but I wasn’t getting past the D Team,” recalls Foreste. The annual ski racing expenses — around $40,000, including the $25,000 U.S. Ski Team fee — were “financially very tough,” explains Dick, who was running his own rock, sand and gravel business.
Meanwhile, the family had the education conversation, “all the time,” says Barbara, a sports psychologist and six-time masters XTERRA world champion. Foreste had deferred admission to Dartmouth twice in order to continue pursuing her skiing dream via the U.S. Ski Team. In the spring of 2014, after another frustrating year in the trenches, the decision was clear. Shortly after winning the junior title at the U.S. Nationals, Foreste announced she was going to Dartmouth.
Nolan Kasper, Tommy Ford and Andrew Weibrecht have managed to study at Dartmouth while competing for the U.S. Ski Team. But because there is no women’s National University Ski Team (N-UNI) that allows such a program, the only path available to Foreste was the “Chodounsky Plan” — racing for Dartmouth as a full-time student and hoping to continue developing as a ski racer, as David Chodounsky did.
Foreste earned straight A’s in high school while juggling an international ski racing schedule but was “in shock” at the amount of work it takes to be a student-athlete at Dartmouth, she says.
“When I look back, I had so much free time on the U.S. Ski Team — I wonder what I did with it all?” she says with a laugh. Gone are the days of simply taking care of all her personal training needs. The packed schedule, however, eliminates overanalysis and assures full attention to the task at hand. “I’m so hungry to train,” she says, “and when I do, it’s focused and energized.” After training, she shifts immediately back to her studies; she maintained a 3.5-plus GPA above 3.5 in her rookie season.
Despite the hectic pace, Foreste found the atmosphere on the Dartmouth Ski Team to be a “breath of fresh air,” she says. “Being on a big team where everyone wants you to succeed is a very different vibe.“
Her parents noticed a difference, too. “Having a more balanced life at school may help her excel,” says Dick, adding, “now there is more to celebrate.”
Whether Foreste can maintain her fire and continue improving through college will depend on many factors, including finding independent, high-level training opportunities; last summer she joined other collegiate skiers training at Treble Cone Racing Academy in New Zealand.
As of now, women’s collegiate skiing is in a chicken-and-egg scenario. The level of skiing isn’t high enough to warrant a hybrid program like the N-UNI Team, but women who could boost the level are reluctant to go to college without the blessing of a national team that supports their development in college.
“I want to graduate from Dartmouth, be an All-American,” says Foreste of her unchanged goals. “And I would give anything to win a team or individual NCAA title.”
While a year on the college circuit has broadened Foreste’s perspective and taken away some of the urgency about ski racing (she also sees big mountain freeskiing in her future), she’s not closing the door for a breakthrough. “For now,” says Foreste, “I’m taking it one year at a time.”
If that involves getting back on the U.S. Ski Team? “I would love it for her,” says Dick. “She would be able to go back with so much maturity.”