Courageous, but not so unusual anymore

(Updated Apr. 20) In early January, The Denver Post profiled US Ski Team athlete Hig Roberts after his World Cup debut in Soelden, Austria.

It was a pretty typical move into the big leagues. Hig earned four starts and didn’t make the flip in any of them. Even starting from #45 in giant slalom and slalom, while possible to earn that coveted 2nd run, for most it just takes time. Most newcomers gain experience, observe the Tour and learn to get comfortable with the new environment.

What was unusual for Hig, was his age. At 24, he was a World Cup rookie. Equally unusual, but becoming less so, is the fact he has a degree from Middlebury College having spent the last four years working his way through classes and NCAA ski racing. Hig wrapped up his college experience and earned his place on the US Ski Team by virtue of his strong performance in the Australia-New Zealand Cup races in the summer of 2014 and Nor-Am Cup Tour last winter.

To choose the student-athlete pathway when still harboring the goal of representing your country is a courageous choice. It’s not easy to balance ski racing and the books, so to speak.

To be clear, the student-athlete pathway to the World Cup is not for everyone. Most athletes who choose to join an NCAA program are keen to be able to continue racing, with the primary goal of completing an undergraduate degree. The World Cup is not on their radar.

But this is a very important cohort for our sport. They fill out the ranks of the Nor-Am Tour, raising the level of competitiveness, deepening the point profile and providing leadership to younger athletes who may be aiming for glory on their National Team or preparing for their own move into the NCAA world. Just imagine what the Nor-Am would be without NCAA athletes.

A small group keep the World Cup target firmly in mind. This past winter  grand total of three active NCAA athletes raced in World Cup races. Several other athletes manage their education while attending school either because of injury or in the spring quarter – and fit in competition.

The larger group has wrapped up their degree and NCAA eligibility. They’ve returned to their National Teams with 100% focus on ski racing as their profession: Espen Lysdal, Leif -Kristian Haugen, Trevor Philp (Denver) , Jonathan Nordbotten, Tim Kelly, Robbie Kelly (Vermont), David Chodousky (Dartmouth), Hig Roberts (Middlebury),Mark Engel (Utah) and Joonas Rasanen (New Mexico). They will be joined by new graduates Kristine Haugen (Denver) and Kristina Riis-Johannessen (Vermont).

The student-athlete pathway is not limited to North American schools. Take a look at the results of the 2015 Universiade and several prominent names jump out: Ramon Zenhaeusern (Switzerland – 7th in Wengen SL) and Robin Buffet (France – 2016 Europacup SL champion).

The path of a student-athlete is courageous. But as a very positive development for ski racing in North America, not so unusual anymore.


About Ken Read

"You're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so…get on your way!" - Oh, the Places You'll Go (1990) Dr. Seuss
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