When the students and administrators of Stratton Mountain (Vt.) School assemble in the campus dining room for a meeting each Wednesday, the discussion is typical of any starchy New England boarding academy--to a point. "To begin, one of the teachers will remind us about the academic schedule, nighttime-quiet rules, picking up after ourselves, that kind of stuff," says junior Louie Vito. "The next minute someone's announcing how his or her roommate just ripped it up in a World Cup event in Switzerland or Austria."
At this fully accredited high school that caters to kids with Winter Olympic aspirations, shredding the competition is part of the curriculum. At least four hours a day, six days a week, Stratton Mountain School's 125 students (grades seven through 12) train with 16 coaches, on snow or in an 8,000-square-foot campus weight room. On days when they aren't training, they're most likely competing at downhill and cross-country skiing or snowboarding events, often on another continent. The rewards are measurable: Since it opened with 15 students in 1972, Stratton Mountain School has produced 27 Olympians. Just last week 2002 graduate and Vermont freshman Greg Hardy won the NCAA giant slalom title.
While 22 of Stratton's Olympians have been skiers, it's the snowboarders--added to the student body 12 years ago--who have lately received the most attention. Following the lead of Ross Powers, a 1997 graduate who became the school's first Olympic gold medalist when he won the halfpipe at Salt Lake City in 2002, five Stratton students or alums are on the U.S.'s 37-member snowboarding team. At least one, Lindsey Jacobellis, who has dominated snowboardcross with six World Cup wins this season, is a medal favorite for next year's Winter Games in Turin, Italy. All the Stratton snowboarders will be defending their home turf at this week's snowboarding U.S. Open.
Eight other Stratton snowboarders, including Vito, have earned invitations to compete in the junior world championships in Arosa, Switzerland, next month. "We've made such strides over the past few years," says snowboarding program director Mike Mallon, who coached the U.S. junior national team from 1996 to 2002. "We've refined our coaching systems and improved our facilities to a point where we can ensure that our athletes will have success at the national level."
Because of its frequent representation at elite skiing and snowboarding events, the school easily attracts top-tier athletes willing to pay $30,800 for tuition, room and board from September through June. (Need-based financial aid goes to 36% of students, 55% of whom are male.) Since 2002, when applications jumped following the Olympics, Stratton has received about 85 applications a year, according to admissions director Todd Ormiston. About 35% of those are rejected, sometimes on the basis of lackluster athletic résumés but more often because of inadequate academics.
Because the school's 16 teachers outline lesson plans at the beginning of a semester and maintain websites with class notes, even students who are away competing for half the winter are expected to keep pace with their classwork. Most excel in the classroom to the point where Stratton is more apt to bill itself as a feeder school to Dartmouth and Middlebury than to U.S. national teams.
"Everyone works hard, and everyone would rather play pickup basketball instead of a video game when not working," says senior Alpine skier Jake Lund. "We all understand each other and support each other."
The skiers promise to provide a big cheering section at this week's U.S. Open, for which snowboarders have been doggedly refining their twists and flips in preparation. "Some of our competitors rag us for training so much, but we feel lucky for that push," says Vito. "Besides, while most of them are tied to a classroom most mornings, we're already out on the mountain."
Need a Lift to Class?
Stratton Mountain School isn't the only academy developing topflight winter athletes. Here are some others.
Burke Mountain Academy, East Burke, Vt.
Established in 1970, the first U.S. ski academy has produced 40 Olympians, including Diann Roffe-Steinrotter, the '94 Super G gold medalist, and Eric Schlopy, who's won three U.S. slalom and two U.S. Super G titles.
Carrabassett Valley (Maine) Academy
Kirsten Clark, an 11-year U.S. Alpine team veteran, and Bode Miller, who won the 2005 World Cup overall title, are among nine CVA-prepped Olympians.
Green Mountain Valley School,Waitsfield, Vt.
As a teenager Daron Rahlves, the U.S.'s winningest downhill and Super G racer, left California to train at this school.
Lowell Whiteman School,Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Graduates include 2002 Olympic mogul silver medalist Travis Mayer and the first American to win the Nordic world championships, Johnny Spillane.