Fittingly, Sultana High School's snowboarders are off to a fast start this season, with three of the seven members already qualified for state finals.

At first glance Sultana seems an unlikely school to be competing in skiing and snowboarding events, but one only has to go up a short way to be above the snowline much of the season.

"We're 40 minutes from Wrightwood," team coach Shannon Millen said.

Still, there's no denying that other teams they compete against have an edge.

"Mammoth [High School], they get to ski on that hill every day," team captain Stephen Costas said.

The team could practice more, but that would mean tapping funds reserved for competition expenses.

Cost is one of the biggest obstacles faced by the Sultans: The Sultana High School Sultana Ski and Snowboard Club has 45 members of both sexes, but $100-per-trip fees have meant that the racing team only has seven members. The team raised $10,000 last year to help lower costs.

"These kids have worked so hard to keep it going," Millen said.

"Lot and lots of fund-raising," team member Trevor Rainwater said.

"And that's not including [the cost of going to] state championships," Costas said. Costas, Rainwater and teammate Scott Dallas have all qualified for the March state championships in Lake Tahoe.

The team has received sponsorship from Desert Community Bank, Victorville Motors, Sunshine Auto and other local businesses.

To stretch their funds further, the team collaborates with Rim of the World High School, where Millen used to be the school's assistant skiing coach, sharing the cost of buses to competition sites.

"Rim brought a lot of experience last year," she said, "And they took [Sultana] under their wing."

And both teams leave any rivalries back at home in Hesperia and Lake Arrowhead.

"We cheer for them, they cheer for us," Costas said.

Although Dallas plays varsity sports for the high school, for most of the team, skiing is the first time they've really engaged with the school's wide-ranging sports program, with an accompanying effect on their grades.

"It really ties academics with athletics," Millen said.

"It's definitely my biggest motivator," Rainwater said.

The Sultana Ski and Snowboard Race Team isn't yet recognized as a varsity sports team by the school and league -- meaning Costas may graduate without a varsity letter and may have a tough time getting a skiing scholarship at Sierra Nevada College -- but Millen is confident that it'll happen at some point.

"These kids work so hard," Millen said. "I'm so proud of them."

Anyone interested in sponsoring Sultana High School's Ski and Snowboard Club can call 947-6777, extension 111.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.