Steamboat Springs Andy White was tired but ready to go.
On a clear, sunny Friday in the parking lot at Howelsen Hill, the 17-year-old Steamboat Springs High School senior loaded two giant ski bags, six bottles of lemon-lime Gatorade and at least three packs of snacks, clothes and gear into a large white van.
Time for another long drive.
Only 12 hours after returning to Steamboat from Park City, Utah, White joined several other Steamboat high school students for a trip to Boulder to compete in races at nearby Eldora Mountain Resort. The races could help the students qualify for national ski teams.
Across town at the high school, other students took final exams on the last day of the semester.
"I slept in today until about 12," White said, citing the long night returning from Utah. "I had finals (scheduled), but I hadn't studied for any of them, and I was really tired, so I took a break."
The tall, lean senior said he plans to take his finals this week, including Monday, when there is no school.
White is one of 75 students enrolled in the "skier schedule" program at Steamboat Springs High School, a public school of about 650 students, guidance counselor Mike Campbell said.
At the private Lowell Whiteman School on Routt County Road 36, academic dean Joanne "Doc" Lasko said 51 of the school's 101 students are competitive skiers or snowboarders.
To balance competitions, training and travel -- sometimes overseas -- with schoolwork, students at both schools coordinate their absences with teachers, do assignments on the road and learn tough lessons in time management.
"It's more responsibility on them and a huge commitment," Campbell said. "They have to give up some things."
Before the buses
For Steamboat Springs High School skiers, school begins before the winter sun clears Mount Werner.
The school's skier schedule is effective for the second and third quarters, beginning Oct. 28 and ending March 31, covering most of the months when student athletes compete in ski and snowboard competitions. The schedule allows qualifying students to take essentially a half day of classes, leaving school after lunch to train at Howelsen Hill or Steamboat Ski Area.
Skiing students take a class beginning at 7:20 a.m. -- the "zero hour," before school buses run or regular classes start -- four days a week, Campbell said. They enroll in only five classes during the two quarters.
A typical course load at the high school is seven classes, but Campbell said skiing students still fulfill core requirements such as four years of English and math, and they must have a 'C' average to qualify for the skier schedule.
"They take a schedule that's just as strong academically (as a regular class load), they will just have fewer electives," Campbell said.
Skiers and snowboarders at The Lowell Whiteman School take a schedule with similar adjustments. Student athletes at the private school enroll in four to six yearlong, college-prep-level classes -- five is standard, Lasko said -- but drop two of those classes during winter.
The missed time for the two dropped classes is made up after the ski season during a month called Intersession. While non-skiing students are gone for a month of foreign travel, the skiers hit the books, with two hours of each class daily and four to six hours of homework each night.
"Three days during the regular year is roughly one day of work during Intersession," Lasko said. "They go at an accelerated pace."
The same goes in early fall.
"We run a really tough academic program up until Thanks--giving, with longer school days and longer classes," Lasko said.
Although Steamboat Springs High School has competitive ski teams, The Lowell Whiteman School does not. Its student skiers and snowboarders train and race with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, a local organization that works with more than 1,000 local athletes ages 3 and older.
Sarah Floyd, director of athletics for the club, said high school students compete in events including Alpine ski racing, snowboarding, freestyle skiing (moguls), Nordic (cross-country) skiing and Nordic combined, which is cross-country skiing and ski jumping.
This winter, Floyd said, students have traveled to Vail, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Lake Placid, N.Y., and Canada, Norway, Switzerland and Italy.
This weekend, snowboarders from The Lowell Whiteman School competed in Minnesota, and the high school's Alpine team raced at Loveland Ski Area.
Families pay for travel expenses and coaching fees, with some help from scholarships, Floyd said.
Administrators at both schools said e-mail and teacher Web sites, which contain assignments and deadlines, help students keep up with schoolwork while traveling.
"If the kid is proactive, we can pretty much handle anything," said Mike Knezevich, principal of Steamboat Springs High School.
Floyd said the Winter Sports Club maintains strict academic guidelines.
"We have a very good relationship right now with both Whiteman and our public high school," Floyd said. "We all have the same goal in mind, and that's giving the kids the best opportunity we can, both academically and athletically.
"The challenge is that we're really looking for a huge commitment," she said. "The athlete often wants their athletics to come first, but clearly, the Winter Sports Club puts academics before athletics -- their academic career will be much more lengthy and will open many, many more doors than most athletic careers."
No other way
Several students at both schools said the rare opportunity to ski competitively during high school -- and chase dreams made real by local Olympians such as Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane -- make the long days and hectic schedules well worth it.
"School goes by fast; you're on the mountain by 1 p.m. until 3 or so, then you come back and do some homework. It's nice because you're free," said Andrew Crowser, an 18-year-old senior at The Lowell Whiteman School. Crowser, a snowboarder, competed at Copper Mountain this weekend.
Whiteman freshman Jessica Eversole, 15, has not yet felt the crunch of schoolwork.
"We get to drop so many of our classes that it's pretty easy," she said Friday. "It's better than having a full day of school."
White said he is ranked about 70th in the world in giant slalom for his age group but is struggling in his favorite class, Advanced Placement History.
"It's looking a little grim right now, but I just have to turn in a bunch of homework I've missed," White said. "I think it'll be all right in the end."
Knezevich said he supports the student athletes but questioned the chaotic pace of their teenage years.
"Is there more to life than skiing and school? For some of these kids there's not," he said Thursday. "A lot of them don't have a social life."
White said the pace suits him just fine. "It's so much fun," he said before hoisting equipment to the top of the van.
"I couldn't have it any other way."