Public high school launches ski academy |

Public high school launches ski academy

Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunNorth Tahoe Ski Academy student Zach Rickenbach performs the box jump test during a performance evaluation at the Tahoe Center for Health and Sports Performance Thursday. The North Tahoe Ski Academy is a public academic program offered at North Tahoe High.

Winter Olympic athletes have been born and raised on the world-class skiing terrain around Lake Tahoe and Truckee.

But academic support was not always available to young athletes who chose the rigors of competition, unless they enrolled in a costly private academy or chose alternative education.

Now, through a collaborative effort between North Tahoe High School and Coldstream Alternative High School, as well as the support of teachers, parents and local ski coaches, a new ski academy offers serious winter athletes a way to remain enrolled in public high school.

Bev Ducey, a trustee for the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, said the new program will serve a dual purpose.

“Although we have great ski academies in our area, we wanted to provide our local students with access to a great public education and the ability to pursue their dreams in becoming world class athletes and future [Olympians],” Ducey said in an e-mail exchange.

The parent liaison for the North Tahoe High School Ski Academy, Johanna Monforte, a former ski racer and mother of two, said the program helps winter sports competitors with their often-hectic travel schedule that can take them all over the country for events. The 1979 North Tahoe graduate said when she was ski-racing in high school there was no academic leeway given to students who wanted to compete and study.

Monforte said the program allows students to schedule four traditional high school classes in the morning, freeing them to train in the afternoons. The students make up the balance of their required curriculum through independent study programs offered by Coldstream Alternative High School. The students must maintain a 2.8 grade-point average, a higher average than usually required by traditional high school sports.

“It’s not a normal schedule; you don’t just get up and go to school,” Monforte said. “You have to be motivated on a higher level. It takes some attention to detail. You have to avail yourself of the classes [when they are available].”

She said the program offers many advanced placement classes, so the student-athletes acquire the academic skills required by California’s university system, she said.

Before the start of the program this year, young competitors had few educational options. The could home-school or enroll in the area’s charter schools that had more flexible schedules than the district schools ” until now, Monforte said. Another advantage is that the North Tahoe High School Ski Academy allows students to socialize with their peers more than they would in a home-school environment.

The program is open to any student who wants to compete and is open to a variety of alpine disciplines: Alpine skiing, snowboarding, Nordic skiing and freestyle skiing and boarding.

Almost halfway through its inaugural year, the ski academy seems to be delivering as promised.

“Not one parent is concerned, [and] the kids are stoked,” enthused high school counselor Penny Burney. “They have been able to do their dry-land training and they are physically fit.”

This year, Monforte said the Alpine Meadows Freestyle Ski Team and Squaw Valley Ski Team have assisted with coaching. Students may choose any competitive team they want, so long as they keep up with their academic workload.

There are other ski academies in the area. Sugar Bowl Ski Academy in Norden near Donner Summit is a private college-preparatory ski academy that offers programs for grades seven through 12. Tuition can cost as much as $30,000 for students who stay at the academy’s dormitories but is less expensive for locals who attend for the day. More than half of the students live outside the area, according to academy Director of Admissions Mike Hoffman

The other difference is that the Sugar Bowl students can only ski for the Sugar Bowl ski team.

The North Tahoe High School Ski Academy is free and open to anyone who qualifies to go to California public school.

“It is a way for us to capitalize on what we have around us that they don’t have in Mill Valley,” Monforte said.

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