Edie Thys Morgan
The NCAA Championships in Park City marked the final collegiate race for Peter Dodge, who is stepping down as Dartmouth College’s men’s coach after 33 years. Dodge took over at Dartmouth in 1989, fresh off his own skiing career, which included nine years on the World Pro Skiing Tour after two years racing World Cup on the U.S. Ski Team. He took the reins from Mark Ford, father of current U.S. GS star and Dartmouth student Tommy Ford, and inherited a program with deep tradition. The Dartmouth Outing Club hosted the first collegiate Winter Carnival in 1911, and to date Dartmouth skiers have participated in every Winter Olympics but one (1932) since 1924.
When Dodge attended Dartmouth as a student in 1974, college racing and World Cup racing were either/or options. Dodge opted for World Cup dreams, fitting school in around his competition schedule while ski racing in Europe independently and ultimately earning a spot on the U.S. B Team. After two years on the World Cup, Dodge was cut from the national team in 1979 despite having scored two top-15 World Cup results that season. With a robust pro tour in place, he was able to continue his ski racing career, but the experience gave him an enduring personal connection to athletes who come into college with more in the tank and a feeling of unfinished business.
Shortly into Dodge’s tenure, college racing became FIS sanctioned, a move that changed collegiate skiing from a step-down program to a legitimate development path. FIS UNI races started in the west, and Dodge, then president of the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA), ran with the opportunity. The first official EISA FIS UNI race was held in 1995 at the Dartmouth Skiway, paving the way for what is now a fully FIS carnival circuit. As Dodge explains: “College became a vehicle to staying relevant in the whole skiing world. That was a big thing.”
As FIS-level racing legitimized the NCAA circuit, the level of competition rose, and skiers — from the U.S. and other countries — started moving on to the World Cup during or after college racing. Dodge fiercely advocated for collegiate skiers, and for collegiate skiing as a development path. In his tenure as coach, at Dartmouth alone, 11 male skiers took advantage of Dartmouth’s flexible D-Plan and advanced to their national teams after competing for and graduating from Dartmouth. The trend spanned all NCAA skiing teams and both genders and continues to build. However, so far, the national teams of Norway and Canada have been far better than the U.S. at converting this uniquely American asset into success.
For Dodge, high points along the way were Dartmouth’s 2007 NCAA Championship Title with an all-American team, as well as all the individual NCAA wins. Dartmouth men won five national slalom titles in a row from 2002-2006, and David Viele won two GS titles in a row. In 2018 Tanguy Nef and Brian McLaughlin won the SL and GS titles respectively, and Nef won the GS again in 2019. “Some of those transcendent performances… I can remember them indelibly,” says Dodge. The performances in the record books were not the only satisfying and memorable ones. He also remembers the unheralded victories, especially after someone struggled for years and then had the lightbulb go off. “Those were really special, and really cool.”
Secret to Success
As for how to win as a coach? “It’s more that I managed to not screw it up,” Dodge jokes, adding that success is a process that starts early, with preparedness, and builds throughout the year. The coach’s role is to keep the momentum going and clear the roadblocks. “You stay out of the way and open the path, more than create the path and push them through it.” Brian McLaughlin recalls how rewarding it was to learn how to race as a team at pressure-packed events while also hammering out exams on the road. “Pete did a great job of pushing us when necessary, but also understanding when school work or a break really needed to happen,” says McLaughlin. “He let us be independent college students and make our own decisions, while providing a strong team atmosphere.”
The major advantage of college, as Dodge sees it, is time and breathing room. “The thing about college skiing is you have four years to make a plan. It’s not like you got named to the D team and you’ve got to get promoted to the C team or the coach is a failure and you’re a failure.” For example, most freshmen are not even expected to start a carnival in their first year and can instead focus on improving their skiing. “College gives you that space,” says Dodge. David Chodounsky spent nearly a decade skiing on the World Cup after graduating from Dartmouth. He called his college skiing all upside: “I may not have gotten [to the World Cup] otherwise, and I definitely would not have had the fun.”
Dodge’s final coaching season for the Big Green came after the COVID break, which put Ivy League and NESCAC schools on the sidelines. For Dodge, it was admittedly tough to come back after the break, especially for his last year. Adding to the difficulty was the disruption of the team ecosystem, whereby veterans pass their perspective, experience and pace to rookies in a continuous process. This year, Dodge’s carnival team included just one athlete who had ever raced a carnival, and all three of his NCAA Championship competitors were in the pressure cooker of the finals for the first time. “When you coach for 33 years, you think the kids all know everything because you’ve said it so many times,” says Dodge, who had to remind himself many times this season of what his young team still needed to learn. He’s never lost faith, however, in the value of those lessons and of the college experience for developing as athletes and as people. “Winning is fun, but it’s not all that it’s about. We’re preparing them for life.”
There are parts of the coaching grind Dodge won’t miss, like doing race entries, arranging and rearranging travel, reconciling receipts, and keeping track of NCAA rules and regulations. He also won’t miss the part of recruiting in which he has to tell so many incredibly talented student athletes they won’t get a spot on Dartmouth’s team.
Of the things he will miss, people top the list. “Coaching the athletes and just hanging around with young guys that have a lot of energy and are pretty amazing people … and the coaches are a great community. I really will miss that.” In his new-found time, he hopes to visit former athletes and their parents (Dodge has coached two generations of some athletes), many of whom are like family.
After taking his Big Green team to the NorAms and U.S. Nationals one last time, Dodge’s on-hill duties will conclude. Springtime will be about riding his bike, skiing with poles, and building a house on his land in Vermont. He will also continue to be involved with hiring and settling in his replacement.
While at the Park City championships, Dodge took some tips from Richard Rokos, who retired from CU last year after 30 years. “He says he’s busier than ever and everybody’s looking for help and coaching,” says Dodge, who will enjoy helping on the hill, and then being able to go home.
He notes the issues ski racing faces, including climate change, the corporatization of ski areas and the increasing costs related to both. “There’s a real challenge ahead, for college coaching and the next Dartmouth coach. We need some young blood with new ideas and a lot of energy.” Dartmouth is scheduled to host the 2025 NCAA Championships, which will be the senior year for the freshmen Dodge coached this year. He looks forward to helping Dartmouth prepare for the event, being on hand to work the races and cheer on the team, and then, at the end of each day, going home.