Snowy start for winter sports athletes

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Brianna Richards gives the welcome speech for the start of the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy on Friday at 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott. The event was held indoors due to late May snow. (Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily)

It was a snowy start for winter sports athletes from the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy on Friday.

Eagle County Magnetic School graduated 26 seniors at 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott, where the large windows in the interior hall allowed crowds to enjoy the heavy snowfall blanketing the mountains outside.

Keynote speaker Thomas Walsh, a Paralympian who won a silver medal at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, said the events leading up to him on the podium that day were “about as predictable as than our weather in Colorado – sunny and summer one day, and winter the next.”



Paralympian Thomas Walsh delivers the keynote address for the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy graduation on Friday at 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott. The keynote speaker was supposed to be Miha Kurner, but Kurner tested positive for Covid-19 earlier in the week. (Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily)

Walsh survived stage 4 bone cancer to become a top adaptive skier and member of the US Paralympic team. He was asked to speak on Thursday after organizers learned that speaker Miha Kurner had COVID because she couldn’t attend.

Principal Wade Hill referenced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the past two years have created difficult times for the school.



Hill thanked VSSA teachers for their perseverance in creating “the best learning experience we could ask of our children,” he said.

Walsh, referring to the fact that he wasn’t the first choice as a keynote speaker, told Beijing he learned “even second place stands on a podium.”

Walsh said his ability to handle what life throws at him is due to him being an athlete at a ski academy as a junior.

“The lifestyle of an elite junior athlete is one that many cannot even imagine let alone manage – the delicate balance between school work, athletic training, travel for sports and competition, and even a social life, are all things these grads had to juggle,” Walsh said.

Kai Owens delivers the commencement speech at the launch of the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy on Friday at 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott. Owens spoke about his time at VSSA and how it shaped his accomplishments, including his participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics. (Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily)

2022 graduate Kai Owens made the US Olympic team this year and traveled to Beijing to compete in the moguls event, where she finished 10th.

Owens also spoke up, saying that because of her eight years at VSSA, she’s already seen some of her dreams come true.

Owens said that as she got older and her competitive schedule required more time away from in-person learning, she received support from VSSA staff who helped her catch up in class.

Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy graduates walk in the snow to start Friday at 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott. Graduation was indoors due to snow.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

“In addition to the support I received from academic coaches and teachers, I got a lot of support from my classmates and VSSA students as they welcomed me back for the few days here and where I was actually in the building,” Owens said. “One of the coolest things about VSSA is being close to a lot of top athletes; throughout the years i have been here i have looked up to former olympians and members of the usa ski team. It was very inspiring as a young student to walk past these athletes in the hallways, which gives a great sense of pride to be part of this school.

Owens presented a faculty award to Katie Brandl, thanking the English teacher for her creative ways to keep classes engaged, such as having children make videos or perform plays in class.

“I would like to personally thank you for all you have done for me and this class, we are extremely grateful to you, I will miss you as a teacher,” Owens told Brandl.

Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy graduates are seated during their kick-off event Friday at 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott. (Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily)

Senior Savannah Jordaan, responsible for adding humorous speech at the start, said students often had teachers for consecutive years, and Brandl had to endure years of Jordaan using commas “where the mood was right.” , she said.

Senior Noelle Edelmann presented a faculty award to science teacher Scott Hopkins, who is transferring to the Eagle County Schools Computer Science department after 13 years with VSSA.

“In 8th grade, we did a science lab where we saw a gummy bear explode and it was followed by ‘see the kids, this is why you’re not eating in this classroom,'” Edelmann said. “His shoes will be very difficult to fill.”

VSSA is part of the Eagle County Schools system and is open to full-time athletes who pass an evaluation of the student’s athletic and academic background. The school serves students in grades 5-12 and is located in the former Minturn Middle School location near Maloit Park in Minturn.

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