EAGLE COUNTY - The Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy is redefining ski school.The VSSA, located within the halls of Minturn Middle School in Eagle County, is a public school that offers a flex schedule for students, allowing them to train and compete in snow sports during the winter months. The program, which works in conjunction with the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, is in its first year of existence. What its founders believe to be the first public-school model of its kind in the nation, the academy provides rigorous academic course work, as well as flexibility for athletic training and competition schedules for its student athletes, according to Miles McGeehan, head of the science and math department.The students engage in a traditional school schedule (8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) during the fall and spring and the flex schedule comes to life in the wintertime. The athletes train in their respective disciplines from 8:15-11:30 a.m., Tuesday-Friday at Vail or Beaver Creek, then head to a VSSC facility for dryland training. Academic classes are held at Minturn Middle School from 1:45-5:25 p.m. Monday is always a full day of classes.
The students still achieve the classroom hours the state of Colorado mandates, even with the shortened classroom time during the winter."Right now our schedule is weaned out," McGeehan said. "We're not having lunch or study halls - all the mundane stuff that normally goes on at other high schools. We don't entertain or deal with those things. ... When (the students) come in here, we knock out three lessons boom-boom-boom. It's a concentrated look at a school day. We actually spend more time in the classroom than other public schools."The VSSA also has strict academic standards. An athlete will be held from competition if he or she falls below a certain mark."They can't have a D in any class," McGeehan said. "We give them an advance notice so they have the opportunity to bring the grade up. We notify the parents and coaches, so the student can seek out whatever assistance they need from the teachers or their coaches."The VSSA has 35 student-athletes enrolled in the program, three of whom are from Summit County. Jessa Bardin, Joelle Chevalier and Luc Chevalier all travel over Vail Pass daily.Joelle, 16, and her 15-year-old brother, Luc, said attending the school is worth the commute involved.
"It's definitely a sacrifice," said Joelle Chevalier, a senior, "but it's not that bad of a drive. To have good grades and maintain quality performance (athletically) is priceless.""Driving an hour a day gets to me," said Bardin, who competes in all the alpine events (downhill, slalom, giant slalom and super G). "It's pretty stressful, but I prefer the schedule to what I used to do."Bardin, a junior, went to Summit High School for two years. The 16-year-old from Dillon said she likes the balance between athletics and academics the school provides so far."The teachers here are very understanding of the schedule we must have to compete at a high level," Bardin said. "At (SHS) the teachers weren't because I was missing so much school. It'll be interesting to see what happens here when we start competing and have to leave for a week or so at a time."Because some students will miss classes due to competitions the program has instituted an online training system similar to what some universities use."We do it so nobody's left behind," McGeehan said. "We post homework assignments so they can keep up with their course load. They also can take upper-division classes we can't offer here because of manpower."
McGeehan said with the online experience they're attaining, VSSA students have a chance to enter college a step ahead of everyone else."I would like to ski for a Division 1 school," said Joelle Chevalier, who along with her brother, also compete in all the alpine events. "I'll already have the understanding of Blackboard (an online college learning system) and how to juggle school and athletics."Although Joelle and Bardin both have aspirations of competing on the U.S. Ski Team, each said the education they're receiving has the same level of importance as on-the-hill training."I would absolutely love to compete in the Olympics or ski in college - that's my goal," Bardin said. "But you can't put all your eggs in one basket. School's just as important, if not more."Josh Salerno can be contacted at (970) 668-4633, or at email@example.com.