April 09, 2014 - Clarkstonites had mixed feelings about all the snow this winter but not skier Derek Van Itallie.
Derek Van Itallie (click for larger version)
All the snow meant the Clarkston High School junior could hit the slopes and help his fellow skiers on the Wolves' Boys Varsity Ski team quality for state finals.
Van Itallie finished his season on Schuss Mountain as state champion in the Giant Slalom and named All-State.
"It was pretty cool," he said. "I have finished All-State every year but it is always an honor to be part of the small group to receive such a high honor. It is such a cool experience. It lets you know how lucky you are to have the opportunity to get there."
His dad, Tom, added, the family is extremely proud of Derek's accomplishments throughout the season.
"He works really hard," he said. "He trains in the off season."
"He put a lot of hard work into the season," said Mike Foyteck, head coach. "All of these kids are getting outside training and racing during the weekends. He made a commitment this year and went up another level."
Derek even stepped away from playing football to concentrate more on training on his overall techniques and into racing.
He explained since he is getting older he wanted to put more focus into racing.
"I am racing against a bigger division of kids from all across the country," he added. "When I go out to meet and see how much focus they put into it and how it paid off for them I really wanted to compete with them. I know it will take a lot of time and concentration in a single sport to get to where I am shooting towards."
Derek finished his racing season on March 29 at the USSA Central Division race at Boyne Mountain with CUSSA, a national ski racing program. He finished with a total time of 57.77.
He finished first place for his age group in the U18, and second place overall.
"It was fun," he said. "There were a lot of people I hadn't seen all year and it is the race event I started off racing in."
Derek began skiing when he was 3-years-old and racing four years later. His older brother, Brent, began at the same time.
"We moved to Michigan when he was one," said Tom, adding they had received a flier in the mail about joining the Thunderbolts, a program for young skiers. "It is a great program offered at Pine Knob Ski Resort for kids who want to get involved. It's how we got hooked."
"We really fell in love with it and stuck with it," Derek added.
As both Derek and Brent got better they became part of the first Pinnacle Racing team, which was created by Joe Kosik, owner of Pine Knob.
"I skied my whole life but never raced," said Tom. "I was pleasantly surprised they took to it so well."
Both brothers were part of the team in 2012 when the Wolves won the MHSAA Division 1 Boys Ski State Championship.
"He was motivated by his older brother," Tom added. "You are motivated to be as good as your older brother and Brent was a great racer as well.
Derek added skiing is one of his favorite past times.
"I love competing in sports so it was the perfect combination for me," he said. "It taught me a lot of life lessons and it really builds character. You have to learn to get over a bad run. There is a lot of mental game in skiing and that is what I like about it."
Derek also enjoys participating in a lot of outdoor activities like mountain biking, traveling, hiking and water sports.
"I like to be moving a lot," he added. "I like to be active."
Part of his accomplishments during his junior year was maintaining a grade point average of 3.6 as he had a courseload include Advanced Placement Psychology and AP Language and Composition.
"He is a smart kid as well," Tom said. "He works hard in school and works hard in skiing."
Derek admitted it wasn't easy to balance his time between school, homework, practices and races but he made it work.
"If I gave myself room and it was flexible in my schedule I could get it all done," he added. "There was a lot going on but I really enjoy my classes which helped me keep my grades up."
As of right now his goal for his final winter season in 2015 is to be the best skier he can be.
"I have some technical things in my skiing I need to work on but it will just take practice," Derek added. "I want to be faster next year. Making it to nationals would be awesome."
He is also looking at colleges and would like to continue skiing.
"It is hard to get on a really good Division 1 college team," he admitted. "I hope I can make it to that level."
His advice to aspiring athletes is to set goals high and never stop working for them.
Wendi graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in communications. She wrote for the Michigan Times college paper and Grand Blanc View before joining The Clarkston News in October 2007. Follow Clarkston sports on Twitter @CNewsWRSports.