by Bruce Strand, Sports Editor
There’s cross country skiing, known as Nordic, and then there’s downhill skiing, known as Alpine.
Nordic has far greater participation, but Elk River senior Nicholas Leonard and his freshman brother Christian prefer the furious pace of Alpine, and they’ve done well competing in a co-op team.
“I like the split-second decisions you have to make. Nothing compares to it,” said Nicholas, a four-year varsity veteran. “There’s no room for error. Winning is decided by tenths, or hundredths, of a second.”
Christian favors alpine because “there’s more action, and you can get your anger out on the course!”
Despite the speed and intensity, Nicholas says his head is “completely clear” while hurtling down the hill.
“On the course, it’s all slow-mo to me. It’s a feeling like nowhere else,” said Nicholas.
He’s had two mishaps over the years. One was a concussion in a fall, the other hurting “only my pride” when he bounced off a tree.
Both made all-conference with Northwest Alpine Ski Team (NWAST), a co-op of Maple Grove, Osseo, Elk River and Park Center that practiced three times a week at Wild Mountain in Taylors Falls.
In their Northwest Suburban Conference season consisting of five meets, Nicholas finished fifth and Christian 10th. Also all-conference was Connor Koch of Maple Grove, who placed fourth. They also had three all-conference girls. Meets were held at Trollhaugen in Dresser, WI, and Wild Mountain.
One of the season highlights was the MLK Invitational at Giants Ridge in Biwabik on Jan. 18 where the boys placed third among 14 teams.
In the sectional, Nicholas had a good run, missing state by two places and just .71 of a second, on Feb. 6 at Afton Alps, ending his prep career. He also missed by two places last year.
Christian tipped a gate on his first run, but “really cut loose” on the second run and finished a respectable 20th among 84.
Asked to rate his younger brother, Nicholas said, “Christian hasn’t beaten me, but you will be hearing from him the next three years.”
About the section finale, their father, Paul, said, “The section race went well – aside from being minus 20 degrees when we arrived at 7 a.m. It was a very emotional day for the kids, and there were many tears shed as a result of their finishes. It was an amazing finish to a great first year as a Northwest Alpine Ski Team co-op.”
It’s been a family activity as Paul got them started and their mother and another brother also ski recreationally.
In Nordic, there are 75 kids on the Elk River-Rogers-Zimmerman roster. In Alpine, the Leonards are among 25 kids from four schools in their co-op. Previous to this year, they competed as Elk River while training with the Coon Rapids team.
Nicholas came out for football as a senior and saw some action later in the season. Christian also plays baseball and football, and intends to be a three-sport athlete at ERHS.