Tell It on the Mountain
Ski Schools Filled with Fairfielders
In addition to a full ski school, mountain schools offers intensive camps for snowboarding, alpine, and freestyle skiing.
Every year, a select group of Fairfield teens head north to attend one of the many “mountain schools” in Vermont, either as full-time boarding students, or as day students during the winter months. These dedicated student-athletes spend their days both on and off the mountain, and 12-plus hour days are the norm. But for these passionate kids, they can’t imagine it any other way.
Laura Shea, her husband, and their five children began this journey many years ago with week-long ski vacations to Smuggler’s Notch. “We noticed that skiing each day for seven days, they each got significantly better by the end of the trip,” says Shea. Soon they were looking into buying a home in Vermont. After a few winters of weekend programs, they decided to enroll the oldest two boys at the Okemo Mountain School, which runs from November through March. Students attending OMS begin the academic year at their home schools in Fairfield. After coordinating with teachers on this end, Laura moves up to Vermont with all the kids in tow so they could spend their winter at OMS.
Mornings consist of “dry-land” workouts and race training on the mountain, and afternoons are reserved for academics. Each evening the students have chores, then it’s home to bed. For those who do not have homes in the area, host families house the students during the season. Once the the ski season concludes, they return to Connecticut to complete the school year. “The families have been amazing,” says Shea, “and it’s great to see kids do what they love.” This coming year, four Sheas will be at OMS, and oldest son, Jack, will be a junior at the Burke Mountain Academy, a full-time boarding school in East Burke. BMA combines a rigorous academic curriculum with highly competitive race training. The school boasts grads including olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin (Sochi 2014), and many graduates go on to ski at Division I colleges, ski on olympic teams, and compete internationally.
Another Fairfielder, Mackenzie Laurion, is currently a junior boarding at Green Mountain Valley School in Waitsfield. Students here also complete a rigorous academic schedule while training at Sugarbush Mountain. The school even fields competitive soccer and lacrosse teams in the off-season, in which over 60 percent of the students participate. During the winter months, there is a musical production and every student is involved. “Mackenzie didn’t want to give up her other sports, and here she will be well rounded,” says mom Alison.
“GMVS is the perfect mix of academics and athletics,” Mackenzie says. “This school can be very challenging, but I wouldn’t change a thing.” Like at other mountain schools, a big part of the experience are the training trips to places like Chile, Norway, and other locales that have snow when the northeast may not. “The entire school just picks up and travels with the kids,” says Alison. She notes that when considering such a program, “you really have to know your child.” The students have an incredibly demanding schedule, so passion is key. “Mackenzie cannot imagine not having this life,” she explains, “I miss her so much, but when I see what they are doing there, I know it’s the right thing for her.”
Henrik deJounge became involved in the weekend program at Stratton Mountain School during his freshman year at Fairfield Prep. He was an avid free skier spending all his time in terrain parks, and became interested in getting formal training. When he asked to attend SMS as a full-time boarding student the following year, his parents initially said no. “Academics come first with us,” mom Nicola explains, “but after we agreed to visit, we were blown away by the caliber of the teachers and the way it was structured.” Although Henrik, now a senior, is not interested in pursuing free skiing professionally, he looks at his time at SMS as a unique “alternative high school experience.”
Mount Snow Academy was the program of choice for Roger Ludlowe Middle Schooler Henry Harding, who will attend this year after becoming intrigued by students he met while skiing at the Hermitage. “Many people who are new to this would consider the [non-residential] Friday programs, but our family just could not commit to being in Vermont every single weekend,” says mom, Jennifer, who has four other children active in various sports and activities. “Henry really wants to get better, so we said yes,” she continues. Like the Shea kids, Henry spent fall at school in Fairfield, and after working with teachers and the principal, will enroll at SMA for the winter session, returning at the conclusion of the ski season. “We are testing the waters and taking this year to year,” says Jennifer, “but are super impressed.”
GET EQUIPPED Don’t be fooled by the name, Cycleology in Fairfield has a full ski equipment service including rentals for the season, as does Kip’s Ski Shop on Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport. Rental places urge reserving early to access the best selection.