ASPEN - Competitive skiing and riding require a huge time commitment that doesn't always conform to traditional school hours. Recognizing the balancing act that many students must perform, the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club last year hired a dedicated academic director who regularly reviews grades and stays in contact with teachers, principals and counselors in the Aspen School District and downvalley.
With a background in business and behavioral science, plus a quirky sense of humor, Brooks Bryant is well suited for the job. Now in his second full year in the position, Bryant's focus is on the 470 team athletes who require more rigorous training and travel time than those participants in the club's myriad recreational programs.
A few years ago, a committee determined there was "room for improvement," and that "we needed to have a bridge between school and AVSC to make sure that 'student-athlete' was not just a word but a real, living term," Bryant said.
In fact, the AVSC minimums for travel and competition - students must maintain a C-or-better average in every individual class - are tougher than those imposed by the Aspen schools for their team sports, Bryant said.
"We want to hold our kids to a higher standard. We really want to build up the whole student," he added.
A perfect example of the "whole student" is Kevin Hartmann, a 2012 graduate of Glenwood Springs High School and former AVSC alpine racer whose accomplishments against nationally ranked competition were many. All the while, he maintained a 4.0 grade-point average en route to winning a coveted Boettcher Scholarship.
Hartmann's using his Boettcher for a full ride to the Colorado School of Mines. (He also won AVSC's prestigious Willoughby Award, presented to an athlete for outstanding achievement in academics and athletics, for two consecutive years.)
The structure provided by training and competition is beneficial for many student athletes, as they learn to juggle commitments and how to better navigate life, Bryant said.
"Most of our kids are not going to be World Cup skiers or Olympians," he added. "We want (them) to be world-class smart."
Just as important as grades are the channels of communication that have been cleared between the schools and the club.
"If it takes a village (to raise a child), then Brooks is a part of our village because he helps lead them in a positive direction," said Kimberly Martin, Aspen High School's new principal. "I feel like the relationship with AVSC is very positive, and that it will continue to improve."
The first freeskiing competition of the season, the North Face Open, was held at Copper Mountain on Dec. 8 and 9. Two up-and-coming Aspen athletes, Andrew Tierney and Gage Carr, performed admirably in an event that attracted professionals and national team members from the U.S., New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Russia. Carr was 18th and Tierney took 19th in their heats. Only 16 men and 12 women advanced to the finals, which was eventually won by Mike Riddle, of Whistler, B.C., and Maddie Bowman, of Tahoe. Former AVSC standout Steele Spence was head judge.
AVSC's Alex Ferreira was 11th on the same day he was officially named to the 2013 U.S. Freeskiing Halfpipe Rookie Team. The U.S. Halfpipe Pro Team includes AVSC's Torin Yater-Wallace, while the U.S. Freeskiing Slopestyle Pro Team includes Meg Olenick, who now skis out of the University of Colorado.
The U.S. Snowboarding Halfpipe Team was also named this week, with Gretchen Bleiler leading a group of six women. Jordie Karlinski, of Snowmass Village, was named to the Slopestyle Pro Team.
Copper Mountain also hosted seven straight days of alpine NorAm races, which culminated with the U.S. Nationals Downhill, an event Aspen hosted last February. Katie Ryan, now a member of the U.S. Ski Team's development squad, had a great week, according to AVSC alpine director Greg Needell.
Ryan won a downhill Dec. 6, finished second twice and was also second in a super G. Aspen High student and AVSC member Julia Mueller-Ristine had two stellar super Gs, finishing in 21st against a strong field and took 17th in a downhill.
On the men's side, AVSC sent a large team that included: Devon Cardamone, Ben Throm, Xon Baker, Dean Travers (who also represents the Cayman Islands), Brannen Hatterle, Nick Mitchell, Travis Lundin, Colby Lane and Hayden Fake.
The field included "Everyone from low-end World Cup guys through our entire national team, the Canadian national team and every top-ranked junior in the U.S. and Canada," Needell said.
Throw in a handful of Swedes, Germans, Brits, Finns, Kiwis, Russians and some Slovenians, and the series could legitimately be considered a "pretty big deal," he added.