Colorado.The state is known as “Ski Country USA.” It’s a place of rugged peaks, high mountains and snowy winters. So, if you’re a skier looking for a place to get educated, it’s no surprise that going to an institute of higher education in the Centennial state might be high on your list.
There is Western State in Gunnison, just down the road from Crested Butte. Fort Lewis in Durango, with the powder charms of Purgatory just up the road way. Colorado Mountain College with campuses in Leadville, the Eagle Valley and Steamboat (which offers degrees in ski area management).
And there’s the big one, the University of Colorado right here in Boulder.
The University of Colorado attracts skiers, there’s no doubt about it. The varsity ski team is one of the best in the nation, with 19 national championships. But what about those who maybe don’t want to ski race? The kids who like hitting kickers, or skiing powder or jumping off cliffs or bashing bumps? For them, there’s the CU Freestyle Ski Team (CUFST), a club sport organization that is the largest ski club of its kind in the nation and, like the alpine racing team, one of the best as well.
With a membership that is open to all students, the CUFST is run and managed by student members. There’s the competition aspect, with coaching and training and the opportunity to compete in halfpipe, slopestyle, moguls, big mountain, skier cross and other events, and then there is the social aspect. Team members share rides to the slopes, travel on spring break ski trips together and go on camping trips to places like Colorado’s Sand Dunes National Monument.
But make no mistake about it, there are some damn good skiers who are part of the club’s competition program: CUFST has won five National Collegiate Freestyle Skiing Championships and brought home 39 individual first place national finishes. The CU Freestyle Ski Team swept the 2012-13 National Collegiate Freestyle Skiing Championships, including winning both the individual men’s and women’s overall titles, the team overall halfpipe title for men and women, team overall slopestyle title for men and women and the overall national team title for men and women.
Those results stand up very well to some of the more publicized sports at the university (football, anyone?).
The CUFST’s competition program was originally started in 1990 to create opportunities for mogul skiers. However, as the sport of skiing evolved, so did the team’s programs.
“We have competition opportunities for every one,” says Devan Corona, who oversees university relations for the program. “There’s park and pipe, there’s skier cross and there are big mountain events as well.”
According to Corona, this year should be another big one for the team.
“There’s a collegiate big mountain series for the first time,” he says, adding that he expects to see many CUFST athletes compete in that three-event series which features stops at Grand Targhee, Wyo.; Crested Butte, Colo. and Snowbird, Utah.
And then there’s park and pipe. These disciplines exploded onto the general public’s consciousness at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, where American athletes shined in the halfpipe and slopestyle events. For the collegiate athletes on the CUFST, the team provides the opportunity to dream big, and perhaps even step it up to a spot on the U.S. national team.
“We’ve seen some really good results in those disciplines,” says Corona.
How good? CUFST athletes were a force to be reckoned with at last winter’s World University Games in Trentino, Italy, with student athlete Jeremy Brown taking seventh in the slopestyle event and fellow CUFST team member Connor O’Brian notching up a top 20 finish in the same discipline.
But talk to CUFST members and coaches and they’ll say that while results in big events like the collegiate nationals or the World University Games are great, the reason why the team has been successful is that it caters to skiers of all abilities.
Never skied before and want to learn how to turn left and right? Not only will you be welcomed to the team, you’ll find teammates willing to give the time and energy so that you’ll end up not only being able to turn both ways, but able to stop as well.
“I don’t know who I would be hanging out with if I wasn’t part of the team,” admits CU senior Katie Hitchcock. “We all have a shared passion.”
Hitchock, a big-mountain skier at heart, says that the community keeps her excited and stoked.
“It’s been a really positive experience,” says CUFST team member Todd Holtan. “I’ve learned a lot.”
“The team is what you make of it,” adds Holtan. “The foundation is in place and you get what you put into it and it’s been really rewarding for me.”
While Holtan and Hitchock plan to compete this season, you don’t have to compete or have ever competed be a part of the program. Still, it’s a good way to get involved and improve your skiing, adds CUFST park and pipe coach Alexis Keeney, a former CUFST team member herself who has since graduated to coaching and competing in park skiing at the national level.
“Competing amps up your game,” says Keeney. “It’s a lot of fun.
“You go out and put together your best run,” she continues. “It’s really fulfilling and competing is not a scary experience, especially when you do it with your friends.”
And “doing it with your friends” is what the team is all about.
“I have so much fun skiing with my friends,” says Hitchcock. “It is great and it’s really been amazing to be part of the program.”
“It’s the best thing happening at CU,” adds CUFST team member Alex Shapiro. “Especially if you are a skier.”