Steamboat Springs A group of Winter Sports Club Alpine skiers will get a jump on their training for the upcoming season. And they're doing it in Patsch, Austria.
By now, seven Lowell Whiteman School students could be descending the 10,000- to 11,500-foot peaks of the Stubai Glacier. Four students from Steamboat Springs High School also are on the trip.
The monthlong program, which is in its first year, was designed to put the skiers on snow in the fall while allowing them to maintain their schoolwork, said club Alpine coach Rob Worrell, who organized the partnership with Lowell Whiteman.
"They can provide the component academically," he said. "That's what you need with elite-level ski racing. You can't have conflicts with school. You need to ski and study. In a situation where you have the Whiteman school involved, you can accomplish both."
Gina Wither teaches science at Lowell Whiteman and will accompany the students on the trip. She said it's not uncommon for students to go on international trips during the summer but that it's unique to go during the school year, with time dedicated for studying.
"The idea is to mesh the schoolwork seamlessly so when they walk in (to class) Oct. 31, they'll be good to go," she said. "That's the idea. That's the goal."
Wither said students would split time between training and studying. They arranged to get assignments from teachers, while some lessons will be taped for students to view online. Wither added that the students would even take tests and said the program meshed beautifully with the school's mission to allow students to succeed academically and athletically.
On Tuesday, not all of the Lowell Whiteman students had finished packing for the trip, but that didn't imply they weren't itching to leave.
"I'm psyched," said Vreni Lupear, a freshman from Nederland.
Some of her teammates explained why.
"To ski for a month," said Shane McLean, a senior from Telluride.
"To be in a foreign country and ski," said Maria Hillenbrand, a junior from Steamboat.
"It's a really good opportunity to be on the snow for a month by the time season starts," Hillenbrand said. "By the time it snows in Steamboat, we'll already have a head start."
The group left Steamboat Springs on Wednesday evening for a flight out of Denver and was scheduled to arrive in Austria on Friday morning, Wither said.
Winter Sports Club Alpine coach Eric Cates and former Winter Sports Club coach and U.S. Ski Team member Scott Wither, Gina Wither's husband, are along for the trip. They'll be joined by two skiers, girls from Chicago and Minneapolis, whom Worrell has worked with in the past as a U.S. Ski Team development coach.
Worrell said the opportunity for the students to ski on icy glaciers, which are more "rugged" and "ratty" than Colorado snow, should be a good training tool. And he said the chance to participate in an international training environment, with some of the best young skiers in the world, is "priceless."
"If they're sitting in Steamboat, they're in their own little world," Worrell said. "Out there, it's competitive. That experience is invaluable."
Gina Wither said the students are going to a "big pond."
"To see that and experience that can only enhance their ability to reach that level of racing," she said.
In addition, Worrell said the students would have responsibilities, such as preparing meals, doing their laundry and cleaning.
The program isn't just about training a month earlier than usual and studying, said Walt Daub, director of the school. They may have some opportunities to travel to neighboring Italy or Germany.
"It gives them perspective on the world, their own culture in this country and on their lives that they otherwise wouldn't have," he said. "It's a broadening and maturing experience."
That experience is important for all Lowell Whiteman students, Daub said. Students not involved in competitive skiing participate in a spring travel program while skiers catch up on schoolwork they missed during training and competition.
Gina Wither said the excitement about the program could lead to expansion into other disciplines.
"I think it's a good example how the (Winter Sports) Club can work with schools in town to serve the community," she said.
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