Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy class takes the next step |

Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy class takes the next step

Ski racer Chad Fleischer delivers the commencement address Friday at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy Class of 2016 graduation in Vail. Fleischer attended Minturn Middle School, which would later become the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy.
Chris Dillman | Special to the Daily |



Ruby Lamont Black

Paul Allen Cuthbertson

Colbey John Derwin

Kaleha Mary Clare Kegode

Riley James Kilgore

Kaison Karel Lavicka

Aaron Jeremiah Milligan

Alexander Nicholas Vel Strizenec

Lauren Christina Viola

Trevor Charles Wahl

VAIL — Seniors from the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy Class of 2016 officially graduated on Friday at Donovan Pavilion.

The Class of 2016 launched the middle school at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy in 2009, and while not many of the 10 who walked on Friday were part of that original sixth-grade class, the significance of their graduation was not ignored. Principal Geoff Grimmer told those in attendance that in 2009, the school’s third year of existence, enrollment numbers were predicted at only 32 students after starting its first year with 31 students.

“With VSSA’s enrollment stagnant … there was some concern about the longevity of the program,” Grimmer said on Friday. “We were starting to ask whether this idea of a public ski academy had failed.”

They launched a middle school, and in came a special group of sixth graders — the Class of 2016 — who forever changed things at the academy, Grimmer said. Among those students were Paul Cuthbertson, who walked on Friday, and Zeke Pierce, who died in a mountain biking accident on Vail Mountain in 2013.

“Word started to spread about VSSA,” Grimmer said. “By Year 4, we had 90 kids, and by Year 5, we had 140. There’s no class in the history of our school that’s done more to bring the VSSA plan together than the one before you.”

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The Class of 2016 middle-schoolers finished the eighth grade with 92 percent of the class considered advanced in mathematics, while the state average was 13 percent. As seniors, their ACT composite average was 26, placing them within the top 1 percent of public high schools in the state.

Cuthbertson presented teacher Mike Kimmel with a senior gift, a book on unusual words.

“But like many of my assignments, the book did not get here on time,” Cuthbertson said.

The Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy Class of 2016 created Zeke Day in 2013, a day dedicated toward kindness toward others, community service and a reflection of how precious life is.

“That day has become a tradition at VSSA,” Grimmer said.

Five of the 10 students who graduated on Friday will attend the University of Colorado in the fall. Cuthbertson plans to take a year off before heading to Montana State University to study snow science; Riley Kilgore will try to further his ski racing career; Kaleha Kegode will attend University of California – Los Angeles; Ruby Lamont Black will take a year off before heading to Northern Arizona University; and Colbey Derwin will attend, you guessed it, Colby College.

Chad Fleischer, during his commencement address to the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy seniors on Friday, matched the students’ hopes and fears with a few stories from his days as a ski racer.

“In life, especially at this age, you don’t always make the right decisions, but one thing we try and do is make the wrong decisions right,” he said. “You have such a great group here, great teachers, great parents and a community that will always support you … there’s a lot of fun stuff yet to come in life.”

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