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Historic winter blast is a mixed blessing for USC ski and snowboard team

The super-size snowpack created unprecedented opportunities for the student-run organization (yes, USC has a ski team), but it nearly shut down the sport’s national competition.

USC ski and snowboard team: Shane Cole and Chloe Barker
Shane Cole and Chloe Barker brave the snowy slopes of Mammoth. (Photo/Courtesy of Chloe Barker and USC Ski and Snowboard)

When members of the USC ski and snowboard team left Mammoth Mountain earlier this month, they came down the hill with a snowstorm on their tail. They also came back with some hardware.

Chloe Barker, the only woman among the five members competing at the U.S. Collegiate Ski & Snowboard National Championships, took first in freestyle snowboarding and third in slalom.

The team was prepared for a weeklong competition series in peak conditions. As the snowpack grew, the competition shrunk. Races were canceled. The event was condensed to two days — a short window when snowfall was light enough for trails and slopes to be groomed for competition.

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“Mammoth is a unicorn right now,” said ski team athlete-coach Nick Ford, who is majoring in administration at the USC Marshall School of Business and cognitive science at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “It’s unbelievable. Everybody’s favorite type of skiing are powder days, and we’ve had more of those up here than we’ve had in the history of Mammoth.

“But in terms of competing, it’s a hindrance. We had to rush through some of our training, and that was just the beginning.”

Ford, who was kept out of the competition by an injury, piled into a vehicle just after the condensed competition wrapped. A storm packing 3 feet of snow was bearing down on Mammoth, threatening to close roads that were already lined with snowbanks two stories high.

USC Ski and Snowboard standout: Raised on YouTube

Barker learned basic snowboarding from YouTube, and she still turns to it for fresh tricks.

USC ski and snowboard team: Chloe Barker

Chloe Barker took first in freestyle snowboarding and third in slalom. (Photo/Courtesy of Chloe Barker and USC Ski and Snowboard)

Growing up in Portland, Ore., slopes were just a couple of hours away. When she chose USC, snowboarding was nonnegotiable.

It can be well into the 70s when Barker packs her board and gear, fighting L.A. traffic on the first leg of the journey.

“It’s a 180 going between the two places,” Barker said. “When I’m at Mammoth, I don’t think about L.A. I’m in a different world, buried in snow. It’s like living in two worlds.”

A design major at the USC Roski School of Art and Design, Barker carves out time to be part of a loose-knit, chummy clan of almost 180 skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts at USC. As a recognized student organization, the self-funded team represents USC even though it is not part of the USC Athletics department.

The team is not well-known for unsurprising reasons: Few put skis and palm trees together.

“It can be a bit lonely at times,” Barker said, “but with the conditions and all the attention this year, we might draw fresh interest. We accept people of all skill levels. You just have to show that you’re excited and really love the sport.”

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