HIBBING — If there’s one place Maddy Clusiau feels safe, it’s on a ski slope.
The Hibbing High School senior has been alpine skiing her whole life, so it’s like her second home.
So much so that Clusiau started honing her skills to the point where competitive skiing came into the picture.
Since she joined the Bluejacket alpine ski team, Clusiau has gotten consistently better.
All of that work came to fruition this season when Clusiau advanced to the state meet, where she placed 69th.
For that reason, Clusiau has been named the Mesabi Tribune Girls Alpine Skier of the Year.
Hibbing coach Brice Walli has vivid memories of Clusiau as a seventh-grader.
“She wanted to go fast from day one,” Walli said. “That’s one of those hard things. You want the kids to go fast, but sometimes you have to slow them down and look back at the basics and fundamentals at the beginning of the year.
“At some point, you have to let them go, but you have to get them working on those key components that transfer over the faster skiing. She’s always put a lot of work in. She’s done what’s needed to be done to perform at that upper level.”
Clusiau knew it was always possible to make it to state, but with skiing, it can be hit-or-miss.
“There’s so much that can go wrong in a meet,” Clusiau said. “I had a little bit of luck on my side that I was able to put a couple good runs together and make it there. I always knew it would be a possibility to go farther with it.
“I’m so glad that I did. Skiing is my favorite sport. It’s so much fun. It’s every athletes’ goal to make it as far as you can, which is the state meet.
It took a lot of personal sacrifice to get to that point. It was six years in the making.
“With the team, it was taking that trek to the Ridge, multiple times a week,” Clusiau said. “It was a commitment, and suffering through all of the cold, cold nights, It was all worth it in the end.”
It also helped that Clusiau had an older sister, Andrea, to chase.
“She grew up chasing her older sister,” Walli said. “From a young age, she wanted to be faster than Andrea. It was fun to see. You could see the competitiveness that she always wanted to be the fastest girl on the team.”
Clusiau never did catch her, but she came close.
“I was creeping up on her,” Clusiau said. “We played all of the same sports for most of her high-school career, so she was a role model for me. I always wanted to be as good as her and beat her, especially on the ski team.
“There’s a common occurrence of siblings on the ski team. There’s always the sibling rivalry. I wanted to be better than her.”
After Andrea graduated, that’s when Clusiau started to blossom.
“I started hitting my stride after she left,” Clusiau said. “It’s the repetition. Every-single run counts. When you do it for six years, you end up getting so comfortable with it, then you work on the little things to get faster.”
Before COVID-19 hit last year, Clusiau just missed out on a trip to state. She never gave up on that dream and it came true in March.
“It was a big deal to me,” Clusiau said. “I had had some smaller successes like taking top 10 in the 11th-grade. To be able to make it that far, getting to state, it was the biggest success possible for myself.”
It was only one trip to state in six years, but when Clusiau looks back on her stint with Hibbing, she has nothing but positive memories.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Clusiau said. “It was some of the best times of my life, being on the ski hill. Skiing is my happy place. I love to ski. I wish I had six more years to be able to race.”
Joining Clusiau on the All-Area team include Hilda Knuckey, Abby Helms and Sulvie Wetzel of Hibbing and Azalea Ray, Eva Roark and Abby Crum of Virginia Area.