There are plenty of unknowns heading into the 2008-09 season for the Douglas High ski team.
The biggest of those is when there might be any substantial snow.
Coach Rob Parks checks the weather forecasts every morning, hoping to see some signs. Frankly, the lack of winter weather has kept the Tigers from taking to the mounatin at all just yet. That's tough, considering the first race is next week.
"This is something we've run into the last couple years," Parks said. "We're coming into the first race with little to no practice on the snow.
"We're hoping to get up there once next week, but the race is on the 18th at Alpine Meadows."
Thankfully, the race most likely won't count toward the overall league standings.
"It's more of a practice run," Parks said. "If there is a later race cancelled, then next week's times would count. The first official race is Jan. 7. Hopefully, we'll have snow by then."
Parks, entering his third year at the helm, has annually joked about doing snow dances in order to bring on favorable weather.
"This year I said we should take our smallest skier and sacrifice her to the snow gods," he said. "She's one of our best skiers, though, so that wouldn't work out very well."
The situation is made more difficult by the idea that Douglas will be competing against the Tahoe schools in the Tahoe Basin League, which boasts some of the top skiers at any level in Nevada or California.
"It's tough going against the best schools in Nevada and California, really," Parks said. "If we were in the Reno leagues, we might be one of the top teams. But only two teams qualify for state from each league and we're trying to do that against the best teams."
That doesn't leave the Tigers without hope, though.
Returning for the girls' squad are the top two skiers over the past two seasons, juniors Crystal Rutledge and Hillary Sapp.
Rutledge took fourth at state last season while Sapp was close behind at fifth. Sapp is a two-time all-league selection, having taken 13th at state as a freshman, while Rutledge won the regional championships as a freshman " a race for athletes who had not qualified for the state championships.
But even with those two returning, how they'll be able to perform is still uncertain.
"Crystal suffered a knee injury during training, so we're just hoping for the best for her," Parks said. "Unfortunately, we're still not sure if she'll be able to race. She's working hard, hanging in there. She's working out with us and went skiing last weekend.
"We'll just see if that knee is well enough for her to be able to compete this season.
Hillary has been doing well, showing some leadership in conditioning sessions.
She's a consistent skier, always turning in top-five runs. If we can build around those two, we should be OK."
Outside of those two, Douglas has just three other girls on the team, all first-year skiers. Parks hasn't seen any of them on the hill yet.
"We don't even have a full team so even though it's a little late in the game, we'd be glad to welcome any more girls that might be interested in skiing with us," he said. "The sooner they contact me, the better. But we are still open.
"It's one of those situations where if Hillary and Crystal are doing well and a couple girls come alongside them, we could slip in there with a shot at qualifying for state as a team," he said. "You never know."
Sophomore Rachel Babbitt, senior Shelby Louie and Dominique Tarter round out the girls' roster.
The boys' team will be similarly inexperienced, but they do have a number of promising returners.
Sophomore Grant Denny, senior Tyler Johnson and Darren Vega are the lone retuners from last year's varsity team.
"Those will be our big three," Parks said. "Grant had some success last year and Tyler is showing a lot of leadership. He'd probably be a leading candidate for team captain."
Douglas also gets Brian Sergott back after he attended North Tahoe last year.
"We're looking forward to seeing what he can do," Parks said.
From there, the Tigers will be counting on a talented returning crop of JV skiers to fill out the varsity roster, including Brock Crawford, Gavin Fitzhugh, Andrew Forest, Nolan Lackey, Baxter Harris, Teddy Williams and Craig Swartz.
Douglas has 28 boys working out this season.
"Overall, there just isn't much experience," Parks said. "We don't have a lot of the racers who have done the formal foundation training. It'll be hard to decide these first few weeks. Right now we can't even get up on the mountain."
While they've been waiting for snow, Douglas has spent plenty of time in the classroom and the weight room.
"We talk about stuff in the classroom, like how to attack gates and what angles they should be looking for down the run," Parks said. "Go over things like where your hands should be and what stance you should have on the skis. We try to do some simulations but other than that we do a lot of conditioning.
"(Cross country coach) Tony Brown came on to coach with us this year and he's really taken hold of the conditioning program and organized it. Other than that, the kids really just want to get up on the mountain."