Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy celebrates its 10th anniversary | VailDaily.com

Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy celebrates its 10th anniversary

MINTURN — Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy students competed in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Sochi, which is good.

However, Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy tends to stress the academy and academics part of its name as much as skiing and snowboarding, which is better.

Here's why: Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy's ACT scores averaged 26 for the last four years, behind only a couple charter schools in Boulder. The state averages 21. U.S. News and World Report named it one of the nation's top high schools.

They treat every kid like an Olympian and they fuel those dreams, said Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy Principal Geoff Grimmer.

"Just believing it spills into school and life," said Grimmer, who has been with Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy for each of its 10 years.

The school celebrated its 10th anniversary last week … "A full decade of this madness, and the best is yet to come," Grimmer said smiling.

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Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy opened in the fall 2007 as part of the Eagle County school district. The school provides flexible scheduling so students can pursue their athletic and academic dreams at the same time.

"Neither is compromised for the other," said Aldo Radamus previously about Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy.

They've grown from 30 kids that first year to 191 this year.

Family matters

Brad and Karen Ghent's three daughters are ski racers: Abby, Erica and Christa. Brad was on the Ski and Snowboard Club Vail board when Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy launched. Karen is still a driving force within the school.

All three of John and Jeannette McMurtry's daughters attend Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy.

McMurtry was the women's alpine coach at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics, the most successful American alpine Olympic outing in history. McMurtry attended high school in Aspen and was a world class ski racer before he was a world class coach. Aspen High School was a great school, but he had to finagle to get out to train.

That's not true at Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy.

Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy replicates Europe's sport-specific school models. Kids train all morning, and attend classes late into the afternoon.

Private sports academies abound around in the U.S., but this is our country's first public school/sports academy. There is no model to follow, but it's doing fine. Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy graduates are getting into Harvard, University of Denver, Dartmouth and Middlebury College.

"We privately fund our Olympic sports. This academy is an exception. It's a natural fit in a place like Vail," McMurtry said.

You can attend Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, but you have to be serious about a snow sport. Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy students participate in one of five sports: alpine skiing, snowboarding, freestyle skiing, free-riding and Nordic sports.

No place like here

Radamus started down this road in 2004. He's also a former U.S. Ski Team coach.

"It could only happen in a place like this where we have such a rich tradition of excellence in academics and snow sports," Radamus said.

Radamus points out correctly that not everyone could afford the tuition at private ski academies around the country.

"Vail has an image as a rich town," he said. "But a high percentage of the year-round residents are in the service industry. We wanted their kids to pursue their sports passions, too."

The school district and Ski and Snowboard Club Vail were trying to figure out how to deal with snow sports athletes who were competing and training all around the world, Radamus said.

"We said there has to be a better way for these kids to not compromise their dreams and not sacrifice their academics," Radamus said.

Ski and Snowboard Club Vail had this program that was supposed to keep kids current with their schoolwork when they were competing. Ski and Snowboard Club Vail hired tutors, but the program was expensive and difficult to administer.

Before Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, these students missed 30 to 40 school days a year to compete, one of the country's highest absence rates.

Turn key operation

When the school building in Minturn's Maloit Park was empty after Homestake Peak School opened, Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy strolled in the door.

"What an opportunity, to walk into a school that was all set up," Ghent said.

There only 30 or so kids that first year and two of the three Ghent girls were among them.

"The concept of having our kids go to a public school was amazing. They're coming out of there with a good education. They can go to a good college," Brad said.

Abbe Ghent was in that first class that attended Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy all three years. After a few years on the World Cup tour, she's attending the University of Utah on a skiing scholarship.

Technology makes the academics more accessible. Every Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy student has a laptop computer, and every faculty member packs an iPad, technology that was in its infancy 15 years ago.

Parents get an email each week, outlining how their little darlings are doing in class. If a student falls below a 70 percent average in any subject for two straight weeks, then they're stuck in study hall, not the slopes training.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.