Hope, wish, pray, cross your fingers and your toes this winter for plenty of snow, if only for the sake of the Hastings Nordic (and alpine) ski teams.

After the very small amount of snow last season, and the trend of not much snow over the last couple seasons, head coach John Dewall said that teams across the area have shrunk as interest has waned.

"We're a small team, but that's pretty true across the conference," he said. "The teams are definitely smaller when you have years of not a lot of snow, participation definitely takes a hit and last year was the worst year that we've ever had."

Both the boys and girls teams took ninth last season at sections but only graduated four skiers between the two. While small, both teams return most of their varsity contributors from last year.

Making up the boys' team this season are sophomore Trevor Caflisch (the Raiders' top boy skier), junior Austin Weeks, junior Ben Bratvold, junior Ahren Rein, freshman Sam Rabaey, freshman Mason Price, freshman Kyle Stoltz and newcomer sophomore Isaac Huntington. For the girls are top skiers Linnea Urban and Emma Bratvold, junior Savannah Henderson, junior Alexandra Doughty, junior Elisa Swartz, seventh-grader Abigail Bratvold, seventh-grade Molly Caturia, freshman Lindsey Gear, seventh-grader Emma Loudermilk and sophomore Kiera Maher.

While waiting for snow and the competition season to start, the Raiders have been busy with their workouts.

"We have a good crew to work with, we're doing a lot of rollerblading and running with poles, a lot of dry land training," Dewall explained.

As with any Dewall-coached team, their goals are simple.

"Our goals, obviously, are to do well in our conference and we have the potential to send some kids to state, no question about that," he said. "And then to teach some of these new skiers how to do it, a number of them have never skied before so we're looking forward to teaching them how to do it and moving them along."

There are clear standouts in the Metro East Conference for both the boys and the girls headed into the season.

"St. Thomas Academy is tough and Henry Sibley is always tough," Dewall said. "Sibley has a good, solid crew of girls and the St. Thomas guys are always tough. Those are the two main players who will be the competition."

One area that Nordic skiing is different from other sports and similar yet different than cross country is that at each meet, the skiers just hope to improve upon the previous one, so no single meet stands out in their importance until sections.

"Every meet is just a progression as we go through the season," Dewall stated. "Some of our early meets, we used to be able to go on man-made snow, but lately it's been really dismal so a lot of the areas only have a kilometer of skiing open."

The lack of snow also impacts their practice time, Dewall said.

"So we typically practice at Hyland Park Reserve if we end up going without a lot of snow (they have man-made), so we do that quite a bit," he said. "We just look for snow, that's the key, to get these kids out on snow as soon as possible and then work with them from there."

Hastings' first meet of the season is a conference meet on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at Lake Elmo Park Reserve. After that, their only other meet before the new year is on Tuesday, Dec. 19, also at Lake Elmo.