Saying goodbye to a special place

Lauren Glendenning
Justin McCarty |
Justin Q. McCarty |

MINTURN — The 11 students who graduated Friday from the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy might be moving on, but they’re also taking with them an immense amount of gratitude for what they were able to experience as high school students.

In the fourth commencement ceremony for the school, the graduates reflected on just how lucky they have been these last few years. They might have given up certain things that high school students typically enjoy, such as wealthy social lives, but they gained plenty, too.

To have the opportunity to attend a public school that also allows its students to train on the slopes is special, recalled Class of 2013 graduate Travis Tafoya, who gave the class reflection at Friday’s ceremony at Maloit Park.

He went on to commend the school’s principal, Geoffrey Grimmer, for being a leader the students could always count on and always admire. Tafoya said Grimmer always raised the standard for his students and always inspired them.

“I look up to your leadership,” Tafoya said.

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Under that leadership lies a tight-knit school community that shares a unique bond. It was fitting they gathered behind their now-former school in Minturn in a wide-open grassy field surrounded by the mountains, said valedictorian Ryan Barney.

“It’s fitting because these mountains are what brought us here together in the first place,” Barney said.

He went on to mention his classmates by name, thanking them and all of the teachers and family members who supported their dreams during their high school years — dreams of becoming Olympians or competing in the X Games, for example, among so many more.

“What other school has a flexible curriculum that allows you to leave for two weeks to compete?” Barney said.

There were down sides, too, but nothing too serious.

“I can’t tell you how many times I tripped over a fifth-grader,” Barney said, referring to the academy’s grade 5-12 student body.

And there was the time he and fellow men’s alpine team athletes got bed bugs from their $17-per-night motel room in Wisconsin while traveling for competition.

“We turned into a band of brothers,” Barney said. “We were always in it together.”

Now these students will mostly go their separate ways. Many will continue to do what they’ve done at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy — focus on both academics and athletics.

Barney is heading to Boston College to study math and finance, and of course, join its alpine ski team. Gregory Belcher will study engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder where he will also compete on the snowboarding team. Jake Cummings will attend Colorado Mountain College in Edwards as he works toward his athletic goals of competing at the X Games and the Olympics.

Caleb Krueger is off to the University of New Mexico and will ski for the school’s Nordic team. Broby Leeds will head to college in Utah for his first semester, but plans to return to Vail to train full-time during second semester.

Alexandra Ramonas will head to Madison, Wis., where she’ll ski race for the University of Wisconsin. William Blommer still has ski racing on his mind and is deferring acceptance to the University of Denver so he can keep training with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.

The love for sports and the outdoors continues for Molly McGrew, who plans at major in health and exercise science at Colorado State University, and for Austin Tafoya, who is heading to the University of British Columbia to study sports science and join the track team.

Katherine Cooper and Travis Tafoya will attend the University of Denver and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, respectively.

The graduates might be scattering, but Barney knows it just means the great things they’ll all do in life will be more widespread.

“I have complete confidence in the success this class will have in the years to come,” Barney said.

Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at or 970-748-2983.

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