Sugar Bowl Academy grad soldiers on at West Point |

Sugar Bowl Academy grad soldiers on at West Point

NORDEN ” When I reach Jonathan Zordell on the phone in his dorm room in West Point, N.Y. I realize from his bone-tired voice that the United States Military Academy’s claims about the rigors of their academy training may an understatement.

It’s a Saturday afternoon in late November, more than two thirds of the way through first semester, and Zordell, a class of 2007 Sugar Bowl Academy graduate, sounds like he’s about one set of pushups away from exhaustion after another grueling week of academic and athletic training.

When I ask him if he’s starting to feel at home at West Point he gives an unequivocal “no,” and I remember that the military academy only barely resembles a traditional college. Instead of staying up late and sleeping all day, the typical cadet is busy from the minute his or her boots hit the ground (often before sunrise) until all the work’s done (decidedly after sunset.)

That’s especially true , Zordell reminds me, if you’re a plebe.

Plebes are West Point’s version of freshmen, the incoming class, the youngest, least experienced and most beset upon students at the academy. According to Zordell, plebe duties (think doing an older student’s laundry) take up a significant portion of his time. And what’s left over is barely enough for his studies.

“They give you a whole bunch of homework,” he says.

However, character building and academic rigor aren’t the only aims of the Military Academy. Zordell began his West Point experience last summer, only weeks after graduating as the valedictorian of Sugar Bowl Academy.

For the first several months the focus of his activities was primarily physical. He says that compared to the summer conditioning program, the physical demands of the school year, while significant, seem reasonable.

His biggest athletic dilemma at the moment is choosing between the paintball team and the ski team. An avid paintball player throughout his high school career, Zordell has spent the fall traveling with the school’s paintball squad, but recently he’s been recruited by the West Point Ski Team as well.

Zordell says that his paintball experiences have been among his most treasured of the first semester.

“It’s awesome,” he says. “Paintball really transcends class divisions. Upper classmen on the team don’t treat you like a plebe.”

Of course, it’s no surprise that Zordell, a longtime member of the Sugar Bowl Ski Team, would be a prime candidate for the West Point Ski Team.

“It’s not the same as skiing back home,” he says. “The Sugar Bowl Team was way more competitive.”

Because West Point rules prohibit Plebes from participating in more than one traveling team at a time, Zordell has a decision ahead of him ” but frankly, right now he may just be too busy to care.

Near the end of the interview, I ask, “What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned at West Point so far?”

It takes a moment, but when I hear his answer, the bone-weariness in his voice is easier to understand. “Uh, I guess it’s that I don’t need as much sleep as I thought,” he says. “I’ve even learned to sleep standing up.”

In a way, Jonathan Zordell is fortunate that his high school experience wasn’t too easy on him. While his time at Sugar Bowl Academy didn’t directly prepare him for being a plebe, it did give him a solid foundation in Mind, Body, and Spirit.

Actually, Zordell tells me, his academic and physical preparations for West Point have been excellent.

“Thanks to Mr. Ascher [a Sugar Bowl Academy teacher], I feel really good about my math and science classes,” he says.

That’s a good thing, because West Point is known for its selective admissions, high integrity and academic excellence. If Zordell can meet the U.S. Military Academy’s lofty standards, there’s probably very little in life he won’t be able to accomplish.

Zordell is understandably excited to be coming home to Verdi, Nev. for Thanksgiving. When I ask him what he plans to do, there’s a lengthy silence. I can tell he hasn’t really had a chance to think that far ahead.

“I’ll be bouncing off the walls,” he says with more animation than I’ve detected in his voice yet. “I’ll probably ride my dirt bike, maybe get my dune buggy running.”

Of course, I’m thinking he may be wrong. I’m guessing the entire time he’s home he won’t get past the first item on his list: sweet, uninterrupted, much deserved sleep.

Sugar Bowl Academy is a college preparatory school for competitive Alpine, Nordic and Freeride skiers in grades 7 to 12. Situated atop Donner Summit, less than a mile from the Sugar Bowl Resort, the Academy is the perfect choice for students who want limitless opportunities in skiing and academics. For more information, contact Michael Hoffman at (530) 426-1844,, or visit

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