June 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Yeshiva League Ski Racing Takes Off

Hunter and Talen London in Zermatt, Switzerland.

Hunter and Talen London had a problem. Even though they went to a school with a deep roster of sports, Yeshivat Frisch just didn’t offer their favorite. So they decided to do what any pair of relentless, charismatic, ambitious teenagers would do — get their school to start a team. But that would prove to be a little more difficult than it sounds given that their sport wasn’t exactly the typical neighborhood contest.

Ski racing.

They were looking to compete in what a typical olympiad would refer to as the slalom in alpine skiing. Competitors ski down a mountain while having to turn from side to side as to stay to the inside and outside of “gates” formed by poles planted in the snow. The skier that makes it across the finish line in the fastest time is the victor.

What leads a couple city kids (they live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan) to get to the point where they feel like they need to start a ski racing team? To get that answer, one would have to rewind more than a decade.

(l-r) Talen and Hunter London.

The London brothers, Hunter (’25) and Talen (’26), have been skiing since they were 2-years- old. As they got older, skiing became more and more of a passion for them. Eventually, they were waking up at 6:30 a.m. on most winter Sundays so that their dad could drive them to Windham Mountain Club, a ski resort that lies about two and a half hours away in upstate New York. They would ski all day and drive back at night. The London family would also take ski vacations out west during winter break.

But without a ski team at their school, the brothers were stuck. Competing in non-school events was pretty much out of the question given that most competitions take place over Shabbat. That meant that their only choice would be to pioneer a yeshiva league for ski racing.

Yeshiva league sports have been expanding over recent years and some of that has been due to Frisch. Athletic Director Aron Cohen is currently helping a handful of teams get off the ground due to the drive of the students at the school. The hope is that if Frisch leads, other schools will follow. But even if they aren’t able to find a home in the yeshiva league, Frisch is committed to nurturing the interest.

The London brothers knew that the first step toward a yeshiva ski racing league would be a Frisch ski racing team. For that, they would need funding and to get money they would need a budget plan. Cohen helped them create a budget plan to take to Frisch Principal Rabbi Eli Ciner.

After they got their approval, they hit another snag. Running practice for most sports is easy. Not so much when your sport is ski racing. The brothers reached out to a bunch of mountains and they were able to come to a deal with Camelback, a resort in Pennsylvania (about 90 minutes west of Frisch). Camelback agreed to provide them with coaching and gates for their practices.

There was still some hard work to come though. They needed to recruit a faculty advisor as well as the rest of a team. Luckily for them, they knew Dr. Elizabeth Rees as both their English teacher and a skier. They were able to convince her to travel with them to practices and oversee the team.

After successfully drawing in some more students, the team was able to drive after school to Camelback, get hours of coaching, and drive back a couple times a week. They really felt like the coaching was making them better.

Competitors in the first yeshiva ski race.

But one team doesn’t a yeshiva ski league make.

For that, they figured they would need some kind of proof of concept. At that point, they started aiming to have some sort of ski race at the end of the year. The warm weather involved in their timeline actually provided the solution to multiple problems.

Big Snow is the name of the indoor ski slope at American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Besides the indoor nature being great for a ski league as the weather would never be an issue, Big Snow is also centrally located and the mall is owned by Triple Five Group. Operated by the Ghermezian family (prominent Iranian Jews), Triple Five also owns the Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada.

After some consideration, the London brothers decided to run the first yeshiva league ski event as a fundraiser for Chai Lifeline. The charity is an international support network providing social, emotional and practical assistance to children, families and communities impacted by medical crises and trauma through a variety of year-round programs and services.

Given the charitable nature of the event, Big Snow was able to give a considerable discount on renting the space. The venue also offered to put up the gates (they host ski racing there once a week already) and to have a few staff members assist with the timing and officiating.

And just like that, the first yeshiva league ski race was born.

Well, almost. Frisch still needed other schools to compete against. And the fact that the other schools don’t have teams certainly made it harder. The Londons went straight to grassroots tactics. They called all their skier friends and asked if they wanted to race. From there, they asked those friends if they had any friends who might be interested. They ended up calling hundreds of kids from schools all over the area.

The short notice and the proximity to finals certainly impacted the participation level in the event, but in the end they were happy to have 21 skiers representing four schools.

“We wanted to prove that a yeshiva ski league could work,” said Hunter about the competition. “We figured creating a successful event would be the best way to demonstrate that.”

The fundraising goal of $5,400 was surpassed easily. They asked all the skiers to donate instead of paying an entrance fee and to send the fundraiser to their families. One of the reasons that they were able to get to their goal was all the support from skiers who were not able to compete for one reason or another. They donated as a way to get behind what the Londons were trying to accomplish.

“We took our passion and love for skiing and combined it with our desire to raise money for charity, resulting in this race,” said Talen about the campaign (chailifeline.rallybound.org/ski).

On Wednesday night, June 5, it was finally time. The guys suited up with all their gear, but not before davening Mincha together as a group. They then headed out onto the indoor slope and took a few warm-up runs before the real competition began.

“This was all really created by the vision and perseverance of the London brothers. They’ve done a great job spearheading the event and seeing the potential popularity of ski racing,” said Rees at the race on Wednesday. “I’m surprised by how popular it was given the timing with finals coming up, but I’m excited about the fantastic beginning and the future of the team and a potential league going forward.”

Each skier would get three runs down the slope with only their best time being counted toward their finish. The vast majority of the competitors saw their times improve in their later runs as they got used to the course.

In the end, Talen proved to be too fast for the others as everybody else was mostly racing for second. The difference between Talen and Eli Stein (Frisch ’26) in second place (1.8 seconds), was the same as the difference between Stein and falling outside the top ten. Yehuda Harris (TABC ’25) grabbed the proverbial third place medal by one tenth of a second.

This year there might not have been jerseys or coaches or medals, but there was a sense of camaraderie and certainly an excitement about being the first ones at the top of the metaphorical mountaintop.

As the guys looked at the leaderboard in the lobby after the competition (and Maariv), they congratulated each other and there were exclamations about how great this could be next year and for everybody to tell their friends.

“At Frisch, one of our core values is the pursuit of passion,” said Cohen as he addressed the potential future of the program. “We are committed to nurturing and expanding the students’ enthusiasm for the ski team, ensuring it continues to thrive.”

The London brothers heard that some schools in the Yeshiva League used to make ski team sweatpants as a joke.

Who’s laughing now?

Finish Name School Time
1st Talen London Frisch 14.1
2nd Eli Stein Frisch 15.9
3rd Yehuda Harris TABC 16.0
4th Hunter London Frisch 16.5
5th Yehuda Katz Frisch 16.6
6th Yitzchak Wertenthil Heichal HaTorah 16.8
7th Yosef Frid Heichal HaTorah 17.1
8th Elan Wenig SAR 17.3
9th Sam Ackerman SAR 17.4
10th Aidan Fogel SAR 17.5

 

 

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