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Teaching powder 101

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun
Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra Sun Paris Tolmachoff outside the Sugar Bowl Academy on Donner Summit.
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Ask most teenagers how much they enjoy school, and the response will likely be a grumble, possibly a rolling of the eyes, maybe even some critical words.

But for Paris Tolmachoff, high school is fun. That’s because the 15-year-old ski racer attends Sugar Bowl Academy, where skiing and academics are woven into one.

Tolmachoff, in his third year at the academy, said the best thing about it is the copious time spent on the slopes.

Naming his favorite subject was a no-brainer: skiing.

Despite his propensity to zip down a mountain rather than sit in a classroom, Tolmachoff holds his own academically, as he earns straight Bs, he said.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Tolmachoff said about his experience as a day student at Sugar Bowl Academy. “The best part is the amount of skiing, definitely. It’s nice to get a lot of learning in, [too].”

Students at Sugar Bowl train on the mountain 12 hours a week, while spending 27 hours in the classroom. The price of tuition for a year varies from $8,000 for middle school day students to $27,000 for high school full-time boarding students.

Steve Ascher, the dean of academics at Sugar Bowl Academy, teaches what he calls “the fun subjects”: algebra 2, pre-calculus, calculus, chemistry and physics. Ascher said the ski racing carries over to the classroom.

“I think the crossover with skiing is that they tend to be very competitive and very results orientated,” said the fifth-year Sugar Bowl Academy teacher. “The first thing they want to know when they get a test back is, ‘How did you do?’ because they want to compare each other.

“But they’re pretty focused, and I think, especially the more successful ski racers, they tend to be the most disciplined students because they attack a problem.”

First-year SBA headmaster Paul Hancock said one of the goals for the academy is to expand its enrollment, which is at 42 students. The optimal number, he said, is 60 to 70. Another goal is to improve on the already top-notch quality.

“We want to continue to strengthen the academic and skiing components of the program,” Hancock said.

Former Olympian Finn Christian Jagge, who is in his first year as head ski racing coach at SBA, is a big help in strengthening the skiing component.

“Obviously Finn is an extraordinarily well-experienced coach,” Hancock said. “I think he has really elevated the skiing program, and he’s made an enormous impact in his first year.”

As for Tolmachoff, both Jagge and Hancock see nothing but potential.

“[Tolmachoff] has done a great job this year,” Jagge said. “He’s one of the best in his age group in the nation. He’s maybe even top 10 in the world.”

Hancock nearly echoed Jagge’s sentiment about Tolmachoff.

“Paris is an all-around good guy,” he said. “He’s a very intelligent student and a very talented skier.”


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