The competitive ski season is long and intense and not many athletes are aware of that fact more so than members of the U.S. Ski Team. Racers up and down the pipeline are constantly traveling around the globe in hopes of one day ending up on the World Cup circuit. Skiers on the national team look forward to a little time off once the season has ended, and some of them spend that time studying at one of the country’s most prestigious bastions of higher education: Dartmouth College, informally known as the “Big Green” to its student-athletes.
The relationship between the national team and the Ivy League school dates back to the 1950s and has only grown stronger since. Currently there are 17 athletes on U.S. Ski Team (USST) who have either attended Dartmouth in the past or are committed to attending in the future. Come next spring, 15 male and two female athletes on the current national team roster will have roamed around Hanover, New Hampshire, taking classes, working out and relaxing before they return to the slopes to compete at the highest levels of ski racing.
Dartmouth’s quarter system, which functions in place of the traditional semester system at many other universities, is the most important element of its relationship to the USST. Students graduate after completing 12 full quarters of their choosing, allowing ski team athletes to attend classes in the spring and summer around their competitive responsibilities.
Some of the biggest names in U.S. ski racing have taken advantage of this setup, including Scott McCartney, Libby Ludlow, David Chodounsky and Andrew Weibrecht.
“It enabled me to go to school. I was one of those guys that was on and off the team a couple of times, so I had something to fall back to every time things didn’t work out.” – Peter Dodge
The relationship between the two organizations is so strong that currently 42 percent of the U.S. men’s team is committed to Dartmouth. The Big Green’s head men’s coach, Peter Dodge, attended the school while competing on the national team and finds himself in the perfect position to help current athletes.
“It enabled me to go to school. I was one of those guys that was on and off the team a couple of times, so I had something to fall back to every time things didn’t work out,” says Dodge, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1978 and competed with the national team between 1975 and 1979.
“Way, way back in the 50s and 60s, that’s when there was really no U.S. Ski Team and when they picked an Olympic Team they had a tryout. Dartmouth and Middlebury and Denver, that’s where all of the skiers were,” Dodge recalls.
Dartmouth has a rich tradition of skiing as an institution, forming the first collegiate ski team in 1909, which helped build the relationship between the school and the USST. Dodge describes a “constant stream” of athletes that have been a part of Dartmouth and the national team since the 1970s, the same era when Dartmouth adopted its quarter system.
The quarter system enables athletes to be entirely focused on either academics or athletics at different times during the year, which is critical to their success as both athletes and students.
The organizations have a symbiotic relationship, in which the USST athletes are able to receive a high-quality education and Dartmouth has Olympians and high-level athletes in its graduating classes.
Neither Dodge nor the women’s team coach, John Dwyer, are concerned that their top recruits might never click into bindings for the Big Green. Dwyer says he would welcome them if they did end up on Dartmouth’s collegiate team, but he would rather see them continue on the U.S. Ski Team because it means they will be succeeding and realizing their dreams.
“You want to help them get a top-notch education. And at some point they may or may not come, but I’m not going to bank on it,” Dwyer says. Having a U.S. Ski Team presence at Dartmouth is a huge benefit to the ski team. Many of the athletes from the national team integrate into the Dartmouth team for spring training, which is a significant asset.
Two of newest national team members to concurrently enroll at Dartmouth are Tricia Mangan and Nina O’Brien. Mangan attended Dartmouth during the spring and summer quarters in 2016 and is a member of the USST C Team. O’Brien is on the development team and will start attending classes at Dartmouth in the spring.
Although they may not ever ski for Dartmouth, Mangan said the sense of community that she feels with the ski team when the is attending school is very strong and a great way to decompress after such a long season.
“Going to school is super important for me because if I was 100 percent focused on skiing all year round, I wouldn’t be as productive as I am when I have that break and I come back and I am super focused,” Mangan says. “It’s almost like clicking the refresh button on skiing.”
Dartmouth was the only school that Mangan applied to because of the quarter system and because of the institution’s support of national team athletes. She is studying engineering and says she feels like she’s a part of the ski team while on campus.
O’Brien is in a different situation. She will start attending in the spring, but she will not be the only member of development team who will be new to Dartmouth at that time. George Steffey is a member of the men’s development team and will be in the very same situation. Luckily they both have a plethora of mentors who have been through the process before. Many of Steffey’s teammates are eager to help him come springtime.
For O’Brien, Dartmouth was her first choice school regardless of whether she was on the U.S. Ski Team or competing on the NCAA circuit.
“I love the school. I just had a really great visit, the team was super friendly when I went and I knew how competitive the [Dartmouth] ski team was. Obviously Dartmouth has great academics, so all of those aspects were things that I really liked about it,” she says.
She was hopeful that she would make the national team but she said she would definitely be happy on the Dartmouth ski team as well. “So many of those girls have either already skied for the national team or they are all just really competitive skiers, so I knew I’d be happy either way,” she says.
There is a lot of skiing to be had before Mangan heads back to school though, and both Mangan and O’Brien were given the first taste of reaching their ultimate goals on Nov. 26-27, 2016, when they made their World Cup debuts in Killington, Vermont.
Both of the skiers described the event glowingly even though neither qualified for a second run. The fact that it was such a historic reach, the first to be held on the East Coast since 1991 only added to the occasion. O’Brien and Mangan will spend the rest of their seasons on the NorAm circuit, where they will no longer be greeted in the finish coral by 16,000 screaming fans, but that feeling won’t be lost on them as they work hard to get back there again.