Tell It on the Mountain
Ski Schools Filled with Ridgefielders
Burke Mountain Academy, a full-time boarding school in East Burke, VT, combines rigorous academics with competitive race training.
Every year, a select group of area 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.
Charlie “Chip” Coffin began racing on the Mount Snow ski team at age ten and caught the eye of coaches from Mount Snow Academy. By seventh grade, he enrolled in their weekend “Jumpstart Program” which runs Friday through Sunday each weekend during the ski season. “Pretty soon, he was saying next year he wanted to go full-time in the winter session program,” says dad Peter. Winter session begins around Thanksgiving, at which point students unenroll from their home schools (which at the time was East Ridge Middle School), and enroll as full-time students at MSA. Working with the home school, students work one-on-one with teachers to continue the same curriculum they began in fall, all while training both on dry-land and on the mountain.
Weekends are spent competing in races until early April, when the students return to their hometowns to finish out the school year. Charlie, now a sophomore at Ridgefield High School and in his fourth year at MSA, loves that he can play on his high-school soccer team in the fall, spend the winter race training, and is still back in Ridgefield to run track in the spring. Peter explains: “It was a great opportunity for Charlie to really ‘go for it’ and try to excel at something, but education is the most important thing.”
Peter, an architect, also volunteers his time as a member of the MSA board. As facilities chair, he assisted with the conversion of an inn purchased by the school that now serves as both a classroom and residential facility. “Charlie lives at the MSA residence four days a week, and lives with us at our Vermont house on weekends,” Peter says.
Laura Shea, her husband, and their five children began their 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 Laura. 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.
Each November, 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. Like Charlie at MSA, once the the ski season concludes, they return home to complete the school year.
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.
Mackenzie Laurion, of Fairfield, is currently a junior boarding full-time at Green Mountain Valley School in Waitsfield. Students here also complete a rigorous academic schedule while training at Sugarbush Mountain. During the winter, 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.
Alison 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.”