DUNSTABLE — Young people throughout Groton and Dunstable are preparing to return to school.
But for some Dunstable teens, school in Groton is only short-term.
Waterville Valley Academy is their next stop.
The academy makes its home in the village of Waterville Valley located in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. Waterville Valley Ski Area is the academy’s training ground.
Director of Development and Communications, Sharon Schmidt, said that with a focus on developing elite snow sport athletes and a dedication to excellence both on snow and off, New Hampshire’s only full-time academic and snow sports training academy has become a second home to some local ski racers.
Seventh-grader Ryan Schmidt of Dunstable will be returning this season for his second year as a full-time student-athlete at the academy. Also from Dunstable, junior Garrett Quimby will return for his third year at the academy. Though they will begin school with their Groton-Dunstable peers, they will spend the winter at the academy, returning to Dunstable to finish the academic year in March.
Sharon Schmidt explained that serious competitors benefit from a six-day training and competition schedule that includes maximum snow time along with four days of dry land and aquatics training and five days of academics. This rigorous schedule has become a way of life for Ryan Schmidt and Quimby, their families and teammates.
With rigorous training that cannot be duplicated with weekend skiing, and midweek competitions that require travel as they enter the high-school years, these young athletes are given access to the highest level of coaching and snow time.
The academy has a roster deep with talent, Schmidt said, that competes at the local, regional, national and international levels.
Long before his academy days, Ryan started like so many kids with lessons at Nashoba Valley Ski Area. Once he became safe on the slopes and adept on the lifts, Ryan joined the Waterville Valley Black and Blue Trail Smashers ski club, at age 5.
It was not long before Ryan became hooked on ski racing, a familiar tradition in the Schmidt family. Ryan’s dad, John, grew up skiing and racing and never lost his passion for it. Though not a competitive skier and these days but an avid cross country enthusiast, Sharon Schmidt, also enjoyed the sport as well. In fact, the couple met while skiing in Vermont.
This connection to the ski club became key to Ryan’s development as a racer. Initially, he skied with the club only on weekends and vacations. But as he progressed in competitions, it became apparent that his skiing was more than a passing fancy and the Schmidts made the commitment to what was to become their way of life.
Twelve-year-old Ryan has had his share of success on the ski racing circuit. He finished second in the N.H. Buddy Werner League Championships in 2008 and was named to the N.H. State Team, qualifying him for the Francis Piche Invitational for the top 9- and 10-year-old racers on the east coast.
One of Ryan’s long-term goals is to ski at the collegiate level. An honors student, Ryan’s personal goal for this season is to qualify for Future Stars, an east coast based invitational event to be held at his home mountain next March..
During the offseason, Ryan plays on two soccer teams in the fall and spring and enjoys fly-fishing and mountain biking.
Quimby, 16, started skiing at the tender age of 2 with his parents. His father, Glenn, is a former ski racer, and his mother, Debbie, has always enjoyed the sport recreationally. Garrett joined the ski club at age 4 and started competing the same year.
Though the family’s vacation home in the valley gave Garrett weekend access to the mountain, it soon became clear, his parents say, that racing was in his future. At the age of 6, Garrett won the NASTAR national championship in Colorado. Then, at age 10, he took the N.H. state championship. In grade eight, Garrett made the leap to Waterville Valley Academy. “At his level, you can’t compete as a weekend skier,” said Glenn.
Garrett has managed to maintain high marks throughout his three years at the academy. His father had nothing but praise for the support received from Groton-Dunstable faculty. Though the two schools’ semesters do not dovetail exactly, it has worked well all three years, Quimby said.
Garrett’s personal goal for the 2009-10 season is to make the Junior Olympic National Team. He also aspires to make the U.S. Development Team, while keeping up good grades. His ultimate goal is to make the U.S. Ski Team or to ski for a Division 1 college.
Following in his footsteps, Garrett’s 10-year-old sister Gabrielle “Gigi” Quimby is also making her mark on the racing circuit. Glenn said though she enjoys the social aspect of the ski team, once Gigi is in the starting gate, she is all business. At age 9, she made the N.H. state team.
Gigi and her parents travel to Waterville Valley every weekend and put in countless miles on the road for competitions. But Glenn pointed out that with “a lot of great people with a mutual interest doing something they love to do,” it is inevitable that friendships transcend the ski season. It is clearly a way of life that both families embrace.
The ski club has developed a scientific system of developing snow sport athletes. “The goal is to keep it fun,” said Sharon Schmidt. Starting with Mighty Mites, kids from ages 5 to 9 are exposed to skiing as part off tried-and-true system.
“We want them to love the sport first,” explained Sharon.
To this end, coaches help young skiers build confidence, while gradually introducing elements – such as bumps, air and gates. Though they start off young, the ski team’s alumni roster is dotted with world class competitors. They include five athletes who competed in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, and current and past members of the U.S. Alpine, Telemark, Freestyle and Snowboard teams.
Additionally, the academy is proud of its college acceptance record, including Dartmouth, Brown, Williams, Bates, Colby, MIT and Bowdoin, to name a few, said Schmidt.
When asked what some of the benefits of being an academy student are, both parents listed the obvious: maximized snow time, world class coaching and the ability to keep up with academics vis-