Two Western Carolina University students are competing in the Mid Atlantic Regional of the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association Friday, Feb. 28, to Saturday, Feb. 29, at Blue Mountain Resort in Palmerton, Pennsylvania.
Jacob Bennington, a junior majoring in parks and recreation management, and Lance Shallenberger, a sophomore majoring in engineering technology, will compete against skiers from nearly 40 colleges and universities. Bennington, 21, from Waynesville, is ranked No. 4 in alpine events in the Southeast Conference and Shallenberger, 20, from Clyde, is ranked No. 1 in freestyle events. The Mid Atlantic Regional brings together skiers from the Southeast, Allegheny and Atlantic Highlands conferences. Winners will advance to the USCSA National Championships scheduled for Tuesday, March 10, to Saturday, March 14, at Lake Placid, New York.
Bennington, who was 9 when his family moved from Florida to North Carolina, began skiing at age 3 during family trips out West. He continued his skiing at Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley, where he also works. Shallenberger learned to ski in the fourth grade by participating in Cataloochee’s after-school program.
Both skiers will participate in the alpine and freestyle events, but each has a favorite. For Bennington, it’s the speed races. “When I’m in that starting block, I just close my eyes and imagine the course. I zone in and then jump out of the block with as much of a pop as I can get, and then I try to destroy every gate and go as fast as I can. That’s why the giant slalom is my favorite. You can go your fastest there,” he said.
For Shallenberger, it’s the ski cross event, where four skiers are lined up side-by-side in the blocks and race each other down the mountain navigating banked turns and jumps. First and second place finishers advance to the next bracket. “You’re going downhill with three other people beside you and you could all be up in the air and crash into each other,” Shallenberger said. “It’s considered a freestyle event, but it’s more like alpine. The only difference is you’re going down four at a time and there are jumps and berms. It’s not necessarily a full-contact sport, but if you push into somebody, they’re not going to say anything. That’s probably what gets me going the most — the idea that you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The skiers are coached by Bennington’s dad, Jeff Bennington, a Professional Skiers Instructor Association Level 2 instructor and a senior ski patrol member at Cataloochee. Jacob Bennington and Shallenberger qualified for the regional competition based on their scores during the USCSA regular Southeast Conference season, which runs from January through February.
Other schools in the Southeast Conference include Georgetown University, Georgia Tech, Appalachian State University, Duke University, East Carolina University, High Point University, Lees-McCrae College, NC State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Western Carolina University, George Mason University, James Madison University, Liberty University, Radford University, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and Washington & Lee University.