Four Ways to Ski In College
By Jesse James McTigue
Jesse is a mom to two Keely’s Camp athletes, Dartmouth Skiing Alumna, Educator, Outdoor Enthusiast, and College Counselor based in Colorado. Keep reading to hear about Jesse’s perspective on several different paths to keep skiing in your life throughout the college experience.
As a college counselor, one of the first things I do with students is help them identify their criteria to draft a “college list.” Drawing from Eric J. Furder and Jaques Steinberg’s book, The College Conversation, I ask students to give words or phrases that describe the college environment that they believe will best suit them. I steer them away from naming individual colleges but instead ask them to describe academic programs, extracurriculars, social activities, culture, setting, size, or a geographic location appealing to them.
For many reasons – I’m based in Colorado, was a former NCAA alpine skier, and spent most of my career in independent schools heavy in outdoor education – more than a handful of the students with whom I work state that going to a college that is close to “skiing” or “mountains” is important to them. This may seem like a trivial, or even limiting, criterion in selecting a college. But it’s not. Neuroscience shows that a student’s sense of belonging and purpose on a college campus can significantly contribute to their academic success, resiliency, and physical and mental health. And if skiing can add value to a student’s college experience, I’m more than happy to help them identify colleges where they can get a great education and ski.
From NCAA competition to student ski patrol, there is more than one way to ski in college. Here are four ways skiing can be a part of a student’s college experience.
- NCAA Competitive Ski Teams: For competitive alpine and Nordic skiers, the most visible path to college skiing is the NCAA. However, it is also the most limited regarding available spots. In total, twenty schools have competitive NCAA alpine programs, and each carries six to twelve athletes. Thirteen of the schools are in the East and seven in the West. They include Ivy League and NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) schools like Harvard, Dartmouth, Middlebury, and Williams; larger, public, state universities like the University of Vermont, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Utah; and small, private liberal arts schools like St. Lawrence, University of Denver, and Westminster. The opportunity is awesome, the competition is fierce, and the culture is inspiring. For more information about NCAA skiing, check out my article on Ski Racing Media: So, You Want to Ski in the NCAA?
- USCSA Varsity and Club Teams: Just because you might not qualify for an NCAA ski team doesn’t mean you can’t participate in competitive skiing in college. A second league, the USCSA (Unites States Collegiate Ski Association), provides a vast array of competitive skiing and snowboarding opportunities at over 175 colleges in eleven different regions. USCSA also offers competitive opportunities beyond alpine and Nordic skiing, including snowboard racing, rail jams, slopestyle, and ski and snowboard cross. The season ends with the best two teams from every region facing off in a national championship. The degree of competitiveness and funding for USCSA ski teams vary. The most competitive teams are designated “varsity” and funded by their college, similar to the NCAA teams, with paid professional coaches, funded travel, race costs, and uniforms. Other teams are club teams that may be student-run and funded, and there are various hybrid models in between. To learn more about USCSA skiing and snowboarding, check out my article on Ski Racing Media: USCSA Skiing: Keeping Athletes in the Game.
- Big Mountain Clubs: Although Big Mountain Skiing is not an NCAA sport, big mountain competitive skiers don’t want to stop competing when they get to college. And because of the discipline’s increasing popularity and level of competition, there is momentum and a critical mass of college students/athletes continuing to shred on collegiate freeride teams and competing in IFSA (International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association) competitions. IFSA is the same organization competitive freeskiers compete in as juniors and the governing association of the Freeride World Tour. Currently, the IFSA website lists twenty-five colleges and universities with Collegiate Freeride Teams, including Stanford University, MIT, Gonzaga, and Air Force, then the usual suspects in VT, CO, UT, WA, and CA. Check out IFSA’s list of Collegiate Freeride Teams, then go to the individual schools’ websites for more information.
- Outdoors or Outings Clubs: There are many ways to ski in college that have nothing to do with competition but instead focus on camaraderie. Colleges from the California coast across the Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes to the Appalachian Mountains have some form of outdoor or outing clubs. Some are long-established outdoor clubs characteristic of New England schools, like the Dartmouth College Outing Club, the oldest in the country, that holds land grants, runs orientation outdoor trips, and is the umbrella organization for student ski patrol, an organic farm, and canoe and kayaking clubs. Larger public schools like the University of Vermont, Utah, and Washington are equally proud of their adventure, outdoor clubs, and campus integration with the natural environment. On many college campuses, the outdoor club is a central part of student life and offers some form of free or subsidized gear rentals, and organized outdoor excursions, courses, and certifications. But most importantly, they offer an active, healthy community. Check out this list from College Consensus of the Best Colleges for Skiers and this one from Best College Review of The 50 Best Outdoor Schools, then research schools where the outdoors club is active, vibrant, visible, and well-funded.
As we mentioned above, we were so excited to welcome Jesse James McTigue to the Keely’s Camp blog because of her unique perspective on college skiing and because she is the mom of two Keely’s campers! In her own words she is a big fan of the awesome women who run and coach Keely’s Camps. Jesse skied and studied at Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and spent twenty awesome years teaching, leading outdoor trips, college counseling, and leading on curriculum in independent schools in VT, CA, CO. She is based in Colorado and is currently freelance writing and running JMAC, a consulting and college counseling practice. Check her out here or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.