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Esko's DeRocher and downhill skiing are a perfect match

When asked how quickly a person can fly downhill on a pair of alpine skis, Alex DeRocher was quick to respond.

"I don't even know how fast," he said, "but fast."

That's just how he likes it.

The Esko sophomore speedster is the centerpiece to the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton alpine ski team this winter, a team captain who has been cruising down the slopes for years, adoring the pace of the winter sport the most.

"I love the speed; you have to react so fast," said DeRocher, who has been clocked skiing around 60 miles per hour at times. "It's so much fun."

With more speed comes less room for error, DeRocher noted. Unlike other sports, in alpine skiing, perfection is needed.

"Exactly," said DeRocher, who also plays soccer for CEC in the fall. "I mean, sometimes in basketball, if you miss a shot, you have the rest of the game to make another. In skiing, you don't have that. If you miss a run, or gate, or turn, that's it."

The 16-year-old DeRocher explained that he got attached to the high-speed sport back in his childhood days. Growing up in a family where both of his parents and older brother skied, DeRocher remembered competing in a few races and never really put his skis down after that.

"I was maybe like 8 or 9 years old, I'm not sure," DeRocher said. "It's a lot of fun and a lifelong sport. And I just got hooked."

DeRocher has been racing on the CEC varsity team since he was a seventh-grader according to 10th-year Coach Ryan Zimny. As an eighth-grader, DeRocher qualified for the state meet. Nowadays, he is itching to get back as the Lumberjacks' leader.

"He was voted captain by his teammates," said Zimny, whose Lumberjacks have already competed at Lutsen and Giants Ridge this season. "He's one of those kids who have a desire to keep improving. He's young, but he already knows those leadership roles. He's a real hard worker and, definitely, a competitive skier."

That's for sure.

In skiing, both the high school season and competitive traveling season take place during the same winter months. Thus, along with captaining CEC during the week, DeRocher also races competitively on the weekends for Team Duluth in the United States Ski and Snowboard Association and even in the Federation of International Skiing.

And it's through his additional weekend racing that DeRocher has been exposed to many different levels of alpine skiing, including Super G, downhill, slalom and giant slalom. To say that DeRocher can get busy during the school year is an understatement; he's raced in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Colorado and even Canada next week.

"He's always balancing training, competitions and school all at the same time; that's impressive," Zimny said. "He a real nice kid and has a lot of experience under his skis. He's never satisfied. He's always working. He's always hungry."

Although DeRocher is leader of the pack, Zimny said the Lumberjacks small team roster also features Esko sophomore Sam Sinnott and Cloquet juniors Isaac MacMillan and Jack Fossen.

Meanwhile, the girls club is paced by Esko sophomore Paige Tranah and Esko freshman Sarah Severson, while Cloquet sophomore Kaitlyn Knutson and Cloquet freshman Carly Boder also contribute, Zimny said.

Still struggling to put together two runs at times, success has come quickly for DeRocher, as he has already represented Team USA's Central Region team twice in the Junior Olympics. But he also knows when to just have fun with the sport that he said he enjoys most.

"On Christmas Eve, a buddy and I went to Spirit Mountain to free ski during the afternoon," DeRocher said. "No competitions, no coaches, just skiing for fun and making some nice turns."

And, of course, going fast.

As for the CEC Nordic squad, they haven't been going much of anywhere.

Plagued by the minuscule amount of snow accumulation this winter, the Lumberjacks have found the season difficult to start. So far they have raced at a foggy Spirit Mountain track, along with three trips up to Mount Itasca.

"All of the teams around here are in the same boat," said third-year Coach Les Martin. "It would be nice to get some more snow. Every time there's just enough, it melts away. We're skiing, so it could be worse, but it's been a tough year so far."

Martin noted that his Lumberjacks recently raced at Mount Itasca Tuesday afternoon, where Esko's Molly Meysembourg placed in the top-10 for the girls, while Carlton's Duncan Fox led the boys in a 12th-place finish.

Martin went on to explain that Cloquet's Alyssa Michaelson and Esko's Elly Siptroth, Korbyn Danielson and Hannah Erickson have been solid thus far. For the boys, Esko's Matt Rengo and Cloquet's Josh Carlson and Nolan Ripp have contributed, too.

Middle school skiers Sylvie Deters and Parker Sinkkonen of Cloquet, and Erica Fox and Kaylee Parks, both of Carlton, were near the top of Martin's list, as they have led a fairly competitive junior high team where the numbers are continuing to grow.

"We have around 30-some kids out for our skiing program," Martin said. "Those are better numbers than we've had here for a while. And all the kids from all three schools are doing well.

"We're having a good time and getting to ski on some snow," Martin continued. "We're doing OK you could say, but it's not like being able to go ski right out your back door."