Four Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Nordic athletes will ski in college |

Four Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Nordic athletes will ski in college

Ian Smith
Vail, CO Colorado
Daily File PhotoVail Mountain's Tony Ryerson competes in a race last season. Ryerson is headed to Harvard in the fall.

VAIL, Colorado ” At first glance, Nordic skiing looks pretty straight-forward. Then fans see the athletes finishing the lung-scorching race and realize it’s anything but.

Hours of training and dedication come before the starting gun. The hard work is paying off for four members of the Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Nordic team.

Tony Ryerson, Conor Wallace, Chris Woods and Kaitlin Zdechlik will all be skiing in college next winter. Woods (University of Colorado) and Wallace (University of Denver) are sticking close to home. Ryerson (Harvard) and Zdechlik (Colby College) are packing up their skis and heading east.

“Everybody in the program is so supportive,” Wallace said. “It makes it so much easier to work hard when you have that support around you.”

It took a lot of hard work for all four skiers to make it to the next level. Wallace and Ryerson credited coaches Karl Hochtl and Dan Weiland for helping them everyday.

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“Both Karl and Dan have been a great help,” Ryerson said. “There’s no way I could’ve done it with without them.”

“Basically, they’ll do whatever it takes to get you into the school you want to,” Wallace added. “As far as preparing us for training and skiing, they’ve been there every step of the way.”

There’s only so much the coaches can do, though. It’s up to the athletes show up and put in the effort. That’s precisely where Ryerson, Wallace, Zdechlik and Woods excelled.

Wallace, who attends Battle Mountain, started his career in Nordic as a sophomore because a shoulder injury wouldn’t let him play hockey. Three years later and he’s going to Denver, one of the best ski programs in the country. The Pioneers have won back-to-back national titles (Nordic and alpine combined).

“If somebody would have told me my freshman year I would skied DI-Nordic, I would’ve thought they were crazy,” Wallace said.

Weiland isn’t surprised at all. After struggling at times his junior season, Wallace came back determined to improve.

“He skis with a tremendous amount of heart and he trains with a tremendous amount of heart,” Weiland said. “He came from nowhere two years ago. Now, he’s going to the best Nordic ski program in the country hands-down. That says a lot about someone that has that determination and that drive.”

Zdechlik showed that same type of drive at Vail Mountain. Racing against Vail Christian’s Jessica Linder, Zdechlik didn’t win as many races as she liked, but that didn’t stop her from giving it her all each time out.

“She fights everyday,” Weiland said. “She’s very consistent with her training. That’s the biggest obstacle with our athletes. For them to be consistently showing up to practice is way more important than what they do at practice.”

Like all four athletes, Ryerson will have to balance a college schedule with a demanding sport. The only difference is that Ryerson will be doing his studying at Harvard. The senior isn’t concerned about juggling his responsibilities. He thinks it will be similar to his days at VMS.

“It’s obviously more difficult because there are other things going on,” Ryerson said. “I think it will be like my experience at VMS, but just more intense.”

Woods can give Ryerson, Wallace and Zdechlik some advice on handling college life. The 2008 VMS graduate will enter his second year at Colorado. Last ski season, Woods spent time training with the Boulder Junior Racing Team and racing with SSCV.

With a season’s worth of experience under his skis, Woods is looking to make waves on the Colorado roster.

“He really jumped up his results last year,” Weiland said. “He’s 70th in the United States in sprinting. It allowed him to get a shot (racing with SSCV). Sometimes, it takes a little bit of a different route, but that’s huge. He’s excited (for next year).”

Just because Ryerson, Woods, Wallace and Zdechlik will spread out across the country in the fall, they won’t forget where it all started.

“I’m really excited to get out there,” Ryerson said. “It should be a lot fun, but I’m definitely going to miss being at home in Vail with my friends and family.”

Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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