HIBBING — Noah Vinopal may have accomplished a first this season for the Hibbing High School boys alpine ski team, but he had plenty of help along the way.
The Bluejacket senior credited his past teammates Ryan Osborne and Blaine Walli for his success this season, plus two other people had a hand in his success — head coach Brice Walli and assistant coach Tony Vinopal.
Vinopal used all of their knowledge and applied it on the slopes to become the first Hibbing alpine skier to advance to the State Alpine Ski Meet, where he placed 39th.
For his achievements on the slopes this past winter, Vinopal has been named the Mesabi Daily New, Hibbing Daily Tribune and Grand Rapids Herald Review Boys Alpine Skier of the Year.
“It’s an honor,” Vinopal said. “It’s awesome to get the qualifications to be skier of the year. Going to state still hasn’t sunk in, but I still get congratulations from people. It’s awesome. That’s pretty cool.”
According to Walli, it was nice to end that drought.
“It was good to see him get to that state, which is what we all strive for,” Walli said. “It had been a long dry spell on the boy’s side of things. It was good to see that he could get in there.
“It all comes down to work ethic, and he wanted it. He worked at it. He put that consistency together. He never lost focus on that goal.”
That’s why Vinopal was so quick to praise his coaches for his success. It was the little things that they did that helped him become the skier he is today.
“I owe a big thanks to the coaches for helping me get there,” Vinopal said. “They set up the practice course every day, and that was a big part of it, that 20 minutes it takes to set it up.
“Those 20 minutes probably helped me to get there, and their coaching tips helped me with my technique, when to calm down and when to push it. That was absolutely vital. You need those people to show you the things you can’t see when you’re skiing.”
If Vinopal was doing something wrong, Walli and his father stepped in right away to give him tips, so his next run would be better.
“You can always do something a little bit better, or there’s an easier way to go faster,” Vinopal said. “It’s practicing those techniques or that tip they give you.”
The main thing Vinopal needed, according to Walli, was more focus.
“That’s one of the most important parts of it,” Walli said. “It’s easy to do good for a little while, but you have to have that intense concentration for that full 30 seconds on the race course, without any mistakes, to finish where you need to be.”
As far as Osborn and Blaine Walli go, their advice last year was also instrumental in Vinopal’s success.
“Those two had me push myself to the limit last year, and that set me up for this year,” Vinopal said. “I’ve always wanted to be the best, and my teammates before me made me want to work harder this year.
“It helped a lot.”
It also helps that Vinopal has only fallen one time in the past two years. Last year, he had an equipment malfunction at the start of a race.
According to Walli, it’s all about muscle memory.
“In seasons past, he fell fairly often, but that’s where you have to get to,” Walli said. “You have to push those limits until you get to where you learn exactly where your skis are going to be, and you trust those abilities that you’ve honed.”
It became so natural of Vinopal that he never had those thoughts in his head.
“It’s not in my nature to fall, even in practice,” Vinopal said. “I rarely fell, but I am pushing myself to the absolute limit.”
Joining Vinopal on the all-area team are Evan Vinopal, Austin Pierce and Carter Bungarden of Hibbing; and Chris Jacklen and Jake McCarthy. Chris Jacklen and Toby Johnson of Virginia Area.