Chasing a dream, hoping for glory
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs senior Savannah Atkins says her choice to leave her hometown this winter to pursue her snowboarding dreams makes perfect sense, but it will not make boarding a plane bound for Oregon this week any easier.
“It’s hard,” Savannah said about her decision to attend Windell’s Academy. “I’m going to miss hanging out with friends every single day … I’m going to miss all those senior traditions. But this was just too big of an opportunity to pass up.”
Pearson Alspach, director of admissions for Steamboat Mountain School, says Atkins is not alone when it comes to high school students who chose to change schools to follow their athletic dreams.
In the case of Steamboat Mountain School, students are normally coming to Steamboat Springs to pursue sports offered by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
She said 60 percent of the students at Steamboat Mountain School are from outside of Steamboat, and most of those athletes are involved with skiing or snowboarding.
The school has long provided students with a top-level high school experience built around the demanding training and competition schedules of skiing or snowboarding. Alumni include two-time Olympian Caroline Lalive Carmichael and 2002 moguls silver medalist Travis Mayer. Three-time Olympic silver medalist Johnny Spillane, who grew up in Steamboat, also attended the school.
“Our niche is balancing the demands of academics with high-level athletics in the winter,” Alspach said. ”Many times we get athletes who live in places where it’s a struggle to compete and train and who miss a lot of school because of it. They can come to the Steamboat Mountain School and continue to excel in the classroom while they continue to pursue their athletic dreams.”
Lalive Carmichael moved to Steamboat when she was in high school and not only loved going to class at Steamboat Mountain School — Lowell Whitman School then — but fell in love with the town.
“At the time, moving to Steamboat Springs was the best decision for our entire family,” Lalive Carmichael said. “I think it was a huge thing in my push to make it to the U.S. Ski Team — not only the school, but the heritage and Olympic culture of Steamboat. I felt like I was allowed to grow into it and be a part of it.”
Lalive Carmichael was a perfect fit, but Alspach advises students and their parents to make sure that a private school designed for students to excel outside of the classroom is the right choice.
“The first thing parents need to do is sit down and have that hard conversation about what the child really wants,” Alspach said. “Does the child understand how many hours training are involved and how many days they are going to be spending at the training facility: The parents need to evaluate how dedicated the student is, and if they know that they will be training after school and training six days a week.”
Alspach said many Steamboat Mountain School students come to Steamboat with dreams of pursuing their athletic goals but eventually decide that the school’s global emersion program, which allows the students to experience a rewarding academic journey where they can also enjoy Steamboat’s mountain lifestyle, is what they were seeking.
Every year, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athletic director Jon Nolting picks up the phone in his office and does his best to answer questions from prospective athletes and their parents who are thinking about moving to Steamboat Springs. He said it is not his job to sell the club and town to outside athletes but to make sure that if they decide to come it’s a good fit.
“There is no question that for some athletes leaving home to further their athletic goals is the right move,” Nolting said. “In most cases, going to a program that focuses on a sport offers athletes the opportunity to focus exclusively on their athletic goals, it provides a place that allows them to access the facilities they need to improve and it allows them to join a peer group that has similar aspirations that can help them get to the next level.”
Nolting said skiing and snowboarding have a long tradition of athletes who are willing to travel to find a place that blends skiing and snowboarding with academics. But Nolting said student athletes shouldn’t expect to get to the next level simply because they chose to take an alternative route.
“A lot of athletes and their parents think that if they make the move to Steamboat, their children’s results will automatically improve and getting to the next level will be easy,” Nolting said. “Many families see a great town, great snow and great coaches, and they think the children’s success will be automatic. Truth is that getting to that next level takes a lot of work and a lot of dedication — especially when an athlete gets to the top levels. But it’s not that easy.
“Sometimes the competition is tougher in our region than where they came from and then the athlete gets frustrated with their results because they thought they should just move right up the ranks,” Nolting explained. “It doesn’t really work that way — all we do is provide the opportunities for the athlete to get to their goals. They still have to put in the work.”
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