Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Local athletes embrace Ski Academy

Enrollment climbs to 45 in new Community School program

Express Staff Writer

Jonna Mendes, a former Olympian and national champion ski racer, was at River Run Lodge last Friday signing autographs and promoting the new Sun Valley Ski Academy to enthusiastic young people. Mendes is now the Ski Academy director of recruiting. Photo by Willy Cook

Less than a year after its inception, enrollment has grown to 45 student-athletes in the new Sun Valley Ski Academy, a joint venture founded by the Community School and the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation.

Forty-one of the enrollees are Wood River Valley residents, indicative that local kids and their families are embracing the new program, where studies and athletics are coordinated to help youngsters excel at both endeavors.

The remaining four were recruited from outside the area and are living this year at the new Community School Residence Hall in Warm Springs.

An earlier criticism of the Ski Academy was that local athletes might feel slighted by intensive efforts at outside recruitment. Jonna Mendes, recently hired as the Ski Academy's director of recruiting, said Tuesday that local youngsters and their families seem to be realizing that bringing in outside athletes will lead to "new friendships and new competition" and offers new ways for all athletes involved to improve their skills.

"It's just a big push to help the kids in the valley to make everyone stronger, and I think they're beginning to appreciate that," said Mendes, a former Olympian and national champion ski racer. "Here in the valley, people are really excited about it."

The Ski Academy was founded last winter to help student-athletes excel at both skiing and schooling. The program is open to students at least 13 years old who are involved in downhill, cross-country or freestyle skiing or snowboarding.

While the majority of the new enrollees were already Community School students and Ski Education Foundation athletes, enrollment in the Ski Academy is intended to allow them to better coordinate studies with athletic training and competition.

Ski Academy Executive Director Steve Shafran, a former Ketchum city councilman, said how well the coordination works will be tested this winter as competitive events across the United States get started.

"This is the hard work now," Shafran said. "The race season's just getting underway. As January unfolds, the coaches and the parents and the teachers will hopefully find that the process is working better than it did before."


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