Since 1940, Holderness School has produced dozens of world-class winter athletes, including 38 National Team members, 15 Collegiate All-Americans, six World Cup Championship Team members, and 17 Olympians. This year, a new Gap Year program is strengthening the school’s pipeline to the highest levels of competitive skiing and snowboarding.
WHAT’S A GAP YEAR? In recent years, more and more high school athletes have opted to take a gap year after graduation to mature and develop their skills before competing in college. A gap year is especially relevant for elite skiers, who often need to race and train for an extra season to acquire the experience necessary to compete at a higher level. Holderness School’s new Gap Year program will support athletes looking to bridge that critical gap in their competitive careers. “The gap year is really important for the athlete that is really on the elite track to try to either make the US Ski Team or ski at an elite Division I NCAA program,” says Director of Snow Sports Ben Drummond. “We’re able to provide them with a community feel but have a full season or two under their belts before they go to college.”
COACHING & COMMUNITY Now several months into its pilot year, the Gap Year program is off to a very successful start. The program is led by Brennan Smith, a former Plymouth State University and Waterville Valley Academy coach, with five athletes under his tutelage. Those athletes quickly got into the swing of things this summer and fall, at Mount Hood in Oregon and Pitztaler Gletscher in Austria for several preseason training bloks. Ultimately, Ben says, Gap Year athletes will spend 60 days or more training on snow during the offseason, between the end of their season in April and December 1. While many ski academies offer gap year programs with similar travel and training opportunities, the Holderness Gap Year program is unique because its athletes are fully integrated into the Holderness community during the school year. Holderness Gap Year athletes will take one class each semester and have full access to the school’s athletic training facilities, dining hall, and day student facilities. “They will feel like they’re part of the Holderness community,” Ben says. “They’re considered day students, so they come and can use the day student community areas, they can play on the fields with the kids on nights and weekends, they can work out alongside them. It’s just really a part of the entire community, fall, winter, and spring.”
WORLD-CLASS TRAINING FACILITIES This winter, Gap Year athletes will spend much of their time training on the Mittersill Race and Training Slopes at Cannon Mountain, a designated training site for the US Ski Team that boasts fully-homologated Giant Slalom and Slalom courses and a dedicated T-bar. Athletes will enjoy even more training amenities this spring with the opening of the Mittersill Performance Center, a 9,200 square-foot lodge that will include ski tuning rooms, coaches’ offices, video review rooms and gear storage areas. “The Gap Year kids are going to be able to train up there basically at their will, around their class schedule,” Ben says. “The other unique part is they get to integrate with our student body - the U16s and U19s will get to train alongside them.” Gap Year athletes will also benefit from working with the school’s 11 Eastern Alpine coaches.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY At its core, the Gap Year program is an investment in the long-term success of current Holderness skiers and snowboarders. In recent years, high-level Holderness athletes have taken gap years at elite ski academies before going on to compete in college or professionally. Thanks to the school’s new Gap Year program, Holderness athletes can now train in the same place for five or six years and enjoy a level of consistency that will only help them flourish. “They get used to our training venue, they get used to our coaching staff, and they get used to our facilities,” Ben says. “They don’t have to change that when they’re looking for the gap year experience.”
COVID-19 has provided many challenges for all of us in more ways than we can count. One opportunity we've seen in this challenge is that it demands us all to be more creative and one place that was most apparent this fall was in the Holderness Art Department.
With world-class ski resorts just a short drive away, plus 20 kilometers of Nordic ski trails and an outdoor ice rink on campus, Holderness School seems like it was built for winter. The same can be said of the school’s new winter schedule, which was redesigned to help students thrive amid the challenges of cold weather, short days, and ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.
It is with profound gratitude that I share I will be retiring in June 2022. As Board Chair Nell Reynolds, the board, and I have discussed, the timing feels perfect for Holderness and for Robin and me. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to retire at this time, but I am also thankful to have another 18 months to serve Holderness.
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