RED LODGE — Hilde Sato was chasing something uncommon.
“I wanted to do something different," Sato told MTN Sports at the base of Red Lodge Mountain last week. "Continue skiing ... but also do school at the same time."
Sato says combining school and skiing is tough to do in her home country of Norway. Upon arrival at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, it didn’t take her long to capture the USCSA women’s national championship in giant slalom.
“I can’t describe the feeling. It was amazing,” she recalled.
RMC ski coach Jerry Wolf has been at it a long time for the Bears, and Sato is as promising as he's seen.
“Yeah, you know, I fought for her with some other schools," Wolf said proudly. "You know how it is, recruiting is kind of word of mouth."
Rocky’s reputation of 11 national team titles between men and women didn’t hurt. Ironically, considering all the foreign skiers Wolf has signed through his coaching years, never once has he made a recruiting trip overseas.
"No, we really don’t have (the budget)," he said. "We spend all the money traveling here in the States and on the kids.”
Zoom, Facebook and other social media outlets have become a big help in saving recruiting dollars.
Sato recalls learning to ski race at age 6, but she also played soccer — uyntil she got hurt. Then, in her mid-teens, she was hooked on skis.
“I had to move away from home when I was 16, so that was pretty rough," she admitted. "But I learned a lot.”
And it shows. Sato picked up another pair of slalom and giant slalom wins at the Predator Cup on Red Lodge Mountain over the weekend. If you ask her which event excites her more these days — she's torn.
“Oh, I am so in between," she said while pausing for a moment. "Now, I ski better at giant slalom, so maybe that.”
Wolf noted some of the difference between slalom and giant slalom.
“The giant slalom, it takes more of a touch, more of a feel, more of a finesse,” he said.
Sato, now a senior business management major, is still undecided on what’s next. But she’s not too edgy about it. At least, not as much as planting at the starting gate.
“Of course I get nervous — and I kind of want to be nervous — because I know it means a lot to me,” she said with a heartfelt smile.
Even national champions still get butterflies.