When she and her sister, Jen, were younger, Sophie Carellas’ dad used to tell them to make friends with strangers.
Maybe not the best parenting advice, sure, but there was a caveat to what Sophie called this “backwards philosophy” of her dad’s: it was strictly for when she and Jen were on the chairlift, riding up to the top of the mountain.
The practice of simply asking, “Where are you from?” made Sophie much more outgoing, she explained, and gave her good footing in the skiing world, one in which she said, “You’ll never really find a mean skier.”
Sophie, a 17-year-old senior at Williston, is no exception: generous, self-motivated, enthusiastic, hardworking, determined, with the maturity of someone who grew up in a similarly supportive community. That community, from Westfield, MA, includes her mom, Deb, and then a crop of Williston alums: her dad, Bill; her aunt Elaine and Uncle Peter; cousin, Ted; and sister, Jen.
After an introduction to skiing around age six from her dad, Williston alum Andy Dirats ’82, and Roll DeVerry (great uncle to 2017 alum and Southwick ski star Devin DeVerry), Sophie quickly took to the sport. “I felt relaxed and naturally did well at first,” Sophie said. “That’s why I started to like it.” She grew up skiing at Butternut, in Great Barrington, MA. “It was something I was better at than my sister,” she said.
That sisterly rivalry became a running theme throughout her childhood, especially once Sophie showed up as a freshman at Williston and her sister, Jen, was a senior, and the ski team captain wearing the #1 bib.
It didn’t take long, Sophie said, for that bib to get passed down. After the first race, Sophie took the top-seed bib from her sister, and has held it since then. Sophie has been the ski team captain since her sophomore year, and competes in Giant Slalom, Slalom, and has done Super G. (Jen is now a junior at The University of Vermont, and a member of the college’s club ski team.)
About unseating her sister, Sophie said there were times in high school when it was a sensitive issue.
“She never outwardly expressed it,” Sophie said, “but it made her a little upset because it was her team, and then I come in.”
Ever upbeat, Sophie was quick to add that she and Jen get along well and still ski together on breaks.
The tradition of passing down the mantle of top skier—or having it stolen—is in play again. Sophie mentioned freshman Lily Shields, who, Sophie said, “has the potential to take my bib.”
What Sophie said she enjoys, in addition to the competition of the sport, is the simple beauty of being outdoors, alone.
“It sounds dumb,” she said, “but [you’re] in the elements, feeling really human, focus on skiing, nature, and you don’t have to talk about anything else.”
“There’s no physical contact besides you and the gate or you and the ground,” she added.
Sometimes those elements, however—and that ground—can lead to serious problems. Sophie knows this firsthand.
During sophomore year, in a race at Mohawk Mountain Ski Area in Cornwall, CT, Sophie was fired up for a “really nice slalom course.”
Nine gates in, she explained, “something happened where I put too much pressure into the ski [on a turn], the snow didn’t hold and I slid into a snow burr that piles up around the gates.” The result: a torn ACL, MCL, and meniscus in her right leg, and a fractured tibia.
After a long recovery, including six-weeks of pre-operative physical therapy, a surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital, and three-months of post-operative training, she was cleared to compete again during junior year.
The fear, of course, still lies in Sophie’s head when she’s screaming down the mountain. Last Friday (January 19), on a course that she said was “all rutted up,” Sophie’s left ski fell off and she landed on her right leg.
“I knew it [my leg] was strong enough,” she said, “but I was still so nervous, I just tucked and rolled.”
Now that she’s healed and healthy, and still holding on to that #1 bib, Sophie will continue to compete at the top of her game this season, and she plans to ski in college next year, wherever she ends up. In the meantime, she’ll ski on school breaks with her sister and her dad.
For learning to ski in his mid-30’s, Sophie joked of her dad’s abilities: “He’s not that bad.”