Garfield County shows up big at ski, snowboard nationals
Two Garfield County athletes helped Sierra Nevada University dominate the official national competition recently in collegiate skiing and snowboarding.
The United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association hosted the National Championships in Lake Placid, New York from March 7-12.
Glenwood Springs native Elle Murphy, 20, joined the SNU women’s alpine team in garnering three team gold medals.
“It went very well for us,” Murphy said. “The alpine team won every single title possible, both men and women.”
Adding to the mix, Coal Ridge High School graduate Shayne Sandblom, 18, manufactured stellar individual performances in freestyle and alpine events.
The SNU freshman notched first-place finishes in rail jam and slopestyle, while he was elected best freestyle snowboarder of the entire competition.
“I was really happy with my performance,” Sandblom said. “And to get gold with that was the cherry on top.”
Sandblom also collected bronze in boardercross and additional top-10 finishes in the slalom and giant slalom events. He’d end the competition with a third overall best alpine snowboarder nod.
The competition featured more than 500 collegiate athletes from across the nation.
Like so many young, aspiring skiers and snowboarders from Garfield County, Murphy and Sandblom’s humble beginnings start at none other than Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort.
“I know that mountain like the back of my hand,” Sandblom said.
SCHOOL OF SNOWBOARDING
Before he was competing against Olympians and collegiate rippers, Sandblom was taking regular trips from his home in Silt to Aspen and Snowmass.
This was while he was attending Coal Ridge High School.
“Some days, I had to skip a class or two,” Sandblom joked.
By his junior year, Sandblom got so consumed by snowboarding he was forced to work out a deal with his teachers. Mornings would be dedicated academics, while afternoons were spent up valley at the mountain.
Sandblom said he even had a class before school started. He also had to miss Advanced Placement Chemistry once a week.
Somehow, some way, Sandblom still maintained a 4.1 grade point average his senior year.
“There were definitely a lot of late nights and commitment all around,” he said. “I just had to keep my head down and fuel myself through that.”
Sandblom was first introduced to snowboarding through skiing. At age 2, his father, Scott Sandblom, placed him on a pair of skis at Sunlight Mountain.
But as Sandblom was one day taking the ski lift, he saw someone riding a snowboard.
This pivotal moment in Sandblom’s life launched him toward snowboard fanaticism.
At age 6, he enrolled in snowboard lessons. By age 11, he entered his first official snowboard competition, at Powderhorn Mountain Resort.
Soon enough, Sandblom was begging his parents to enroll him at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, the Roaring Fork Valley’s oldest youth club.
“My progression just absolutely soared,” Sandblom said.
Sandblom then graduated from local competitions in Aspen to competing in the FIS worldwide association for competitive snowboarding circuit.
Sandblom’s dedication also landed him a scholarship at Sierra Nevada, where he’s studying interdisciplinary studies outdoor leadership and environmental science.
Right now, Sandblom is keeping the door open for possibly going pro in snowboarding.
Or, he said, he may just pursue a career in something else while simply keeping snowboarding as something he loves to do.
“I just want to keep all my doors open,” he said.
A WELL-ROUNDED SKIER
Simply put, Murphy is a racer.
The 20-year-old skier who has dual American, Irish citizenship got her taste for the slopes in Garfield County.
“I learned how to ski at Sunlight Mountain through their Buddy Warner program,” she said. “Then I eventually outgrew Sunlight and went to the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club.”
Coaches at the club are particularly good at ensuring their pupils have all bases covered when it comes to skiing. Those who favor alpine racing are taught freestyle, and it’s viceversa for those who favor freestyle.
“Aspen really creates a well-rounded skier,” Murphy said. “They supported us all the way.”
By the time Murphy was a freshman at Glenwood Springs High School, her allegiance and dedication became too strong. She would finish the last three years of high school taking classes online.
But her undivided focus on what she loved most has taken her to great lengths. She too landed a spot on Sierra Nevada’s ski team, while she’s already competed all over the world.
“I’ve competed in European youth Olympics and three junior world competitions,” she said. “The transition to online schooling allowed me to do that.”
Murphy said she has an opportunity to compete at the FIS Alpine Ski World Championships next year in France, where she’ll represent Ireland. In addition to France, she also might take an opportunity to represent Ireland at the 2026 winter Olympics in Italy.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “Skiing has taken me to so many places.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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