Every Saturday morning at the crack of dawn, when most teenagers were fast asleep, senior Jeremi Kalkowski would don his skiing outfit and head out on a three hour drive up to the snow-capped peaks of Lake Tahoe. By 9 a.m., Kalkowski was racing down the slopes, coasting from gate to gate at speeds upwards of 50 mph.
Kalkowski was four years old when his father taught him how to ski. Unlike most, he didn’t have formal lessons; all it took was his father teaching him the “Pizza” and “French Fries” techniques (which refer to the position of the skis) to kickstart his journey as both a competitive and casual skier.
In eighth grade, Kalkowski began his career as a competitive skier, joining the Kirkwood Ski Team. Every Saturday, Kalkowski would wake up at 5 a.m. and head up to Lake Tahoe to practice. His training routine consisted of three hours of practicing gates (an opening through which a skier must pass in a slalom course), where he would work with his coaches to get feedback and improve. Following lunch was free skiing, which entailed drills and all-mountain skiing.
One of Kalkowski’s most memorable moments was during one of his first races. Standing on deck amidst a 10 degrees Fahrenheit blizzard, as he awaited his run for Giant Slalom (an event with bigger gates, faster speed and less technique), Kalkowski’s coach told him to take off his jacket too early. When he asked his coach if he could put his jacket back on, Kalkowski was told he was going to race soon. Unbeknownst to Kalkowski, his race did not start until much later, and he had been standing in a blizzard for 40 minutes, which led to a poor run.
Today Kalkowski looks at his early blunders with reverence. Refusing to let his initial mistakes define him, one of his favorite moments in over a decade of skiing was at the end of Tahoe League finals during his freshman year, as he waited for awards to be called. He had placed seventh in the Tahoe League, a defining moment Kalkowski believes boosted his confidence.
Nevertheless, alpine skiing is not without its challenges. Kalkowski feels the most difficult aspect of skiing is overcoming the fear factor.
“I still don’t do jumps or terrain stuff because I have this thing ingrained in me that I’ll fall,” Kalkowski said. “You have to train yourself that even though you’re going fast it doesn’t mean anything.”
Like any sport, alpine skiing takes a great deal of commitment to master. Today, Kalkowski is no longer on the team as it’s not something he plans to pursue professionally.
“I’m not the best, though I did place in Tahoe Leagues,” Kalkowski said. “I wasn’t the cream of the crop. Even though my dad thought I had potential, [skiing] was never really my thing.”
With his focus shifting to acting, Kalkowski began to have less time to spend on competitive skiing. He had to manage his time carefully, and ultimately decided he couldn’t continue skiing at the level he was. As Kalkowski calls skiing a “test of mental and physical endurance,” it’s not surprising that the most valuable thing he has learned from the sport is how to deal with feeling tired.
“Having to deal with getting up at five every weekend to go up and
train, then having to go back a day later to Cupertino at 8 p.m., a three hour drive, pushed me to my limits,” Kalkowski said. “It has helped me become more patient in dealing with harder situations.”
Today, Kalkowski is far-removed from the slopes of Lake Tahoe. He does not follow the X-Games or the Winter Olympics closely. Nonetheless, Kalkowski occasionally indulges in the sport he once dedicated himself to.
“Casual skiing is still fun especially with my background,” Kalkowski said. “If you have all these skill sets it really helps you enjoy the whole mountain.”