Not too much travel: Skiers from Glenwood Springs commute to compete with AVSC
Special to the Post Independent
Balancing school work and ski racing can be a challenge, even for the most organized student. The time crunch is exacerbated when up to two hours of daily commuting is added into the mix.
But for a pack of Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club alpine racers who live in Glenwood Springs, the tight scheduling and sacrificed free time are well worth the tradeoff. And as one of the AVSC coaches has suggested, it could be a factor in this particular group’s success.
While students at the Aspen public schools need only walk across a parking lot to access a chairlift, “These kids have to put in more effort to get to the venue,” said under-12 coach Willy Volkhausen, a veteran AVSC coach who raced with Sunlight Winter Sports Club until the age of 18. “Their desire is evident.”
Sunlight no longer offers training for older, or “ability” class ski racers like when Volkhausen was an up-and-coming competitor. Its focus in recent years has been providing a solid foundation for its “age class” racers.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN, AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN
Ethan deMoreas, an eighth grader at St. Stephen’s Catholic School, has his school and ski racing routine down pat.
“Teachers give us our homework early and we do it on the ride up to Aspen,” deMoreas said between laps on a giant-slalom course at Aspen Highlands.
Glenwood Springs Middle School student Levyn Thomas gets out of school at 11:20 a.m. two or three days a week but still carries a full course load that includes science, math, humanities, health and Spanish.
Not fond of studying in the car like fellow commuter deMoreas, Thomas, an A-student, instead “comes in at recess a lot to study and get help for subjects I’ve missed,” she said. “And I have quite a bit of homework.”
Now on the upswing from injury, Thomas has been a consistent top finisher for most of her career. Her younger brother Tyler, a U12 skier, is a frequent visitor to the podium as are Glenwood athletes Garrett Dollahan and Sam McDermott, two boys who also hail from ski-racing families.
Elle Murphy, a seventh grader at St. Stephen’s, is leading the charge for her younger ski racing sibling, Kailey. “I try to be a good role model,” she said.
Best friends since first grade, Allyson Cornelius and Summer McSwain have long been friendly rivals in the gates. In training, the two athletes push one another with gentle prods and friendly jokes.
Taller than her buddy by almost a head, Cornelius has enjoyed a solid start to the 2014/15 season, which included an early January win at Steamboat Springs. Still, she remembers a victory McSwain pulled off years ago at the J5 Finale that seems as if it were yesterday.
Summer is the youngest of four ski racing sisters and over the past decade. The McSwains have worked out a manageable system for balancing academics with athletics.
That’s thanks to “teachers who have been flexible and worked with us,” Ty McSwain said.
“What I find is that ski racing in general requires [students] to be better time managers than just about any other sport,” he said, noting that, “keeping the GPA high is the only way you can miss school and train during the week.”
PARENT BUY-IN IS NEEDED
Like Levyn Thomas, Allyson Cornelius finishes many of her school days at 11:20 a.m., which necessitates organization on her part as well as those who participate in the carpool.
Each week, one family is assigned the late-morning commute, while Ty McSwain typically handles the afternoon pick-up because it works well with his schedule as a builder.
“Our parents have had plenty of practice” adhering to the school and training schedule because of the older siblings, Cornelius and McSwain agreed.
The middle school has had practice at making accommodations for athletes of all stripes, an ethos that St. Stephen’s follows, too.
“I’m kind of a sports nut,” said Father Bert Chilson, who has been pastor for over a year now. Raised in the valley and the brother of former pro ski racer Chip Chilson, Father Chilson said: “There’s a lot of great athletes at this school.”
He recognizes that for many to reach their competitive goals, careful planning, and some sacrifice, is necessary.
“I know in general terms the kinds of sacrifices our parents make for all kinds of things,” Father Chilson said. Those include funding a private education and traveling long distances for school and outside activities.
Having noticed the incredible personal involvement made by school families, Father Chilson added: “The giving nature of people in our community is remarkable.”
Coach Volkhausen remains impressed by the ski-racing families willing to make that extra effort to bring their kids upvalley during the week for race training.
“It’s a tight little community there,” Volkhausen said, adding, “There’s a lot of extra effort and dedication on their behalf.”
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There might be part of Hailey Swirbul that is finally beginning to believe she belongs. The 22-year-old cross-country skier is coming off quite a stretch with the U.S. ski team, one that includes her first career World Cup podium and a successful go in the notorious Tour de Ski stage race.