There has been a positive gain in the national growth of nordic skiing with the advent of club teams for post-college graduates. But what about the athletes on the other side of the spectrum, those who graduate high school and want to continue their education but don’t feel ready yet to ski at the NCAA level?
Some athletes may have focused more on running, track, or soccer during high school, and do not yet have the ski experience to race at the college level. Others may feel they need a couple years to fully develop their potential in order to be more successfully recruited – with the possibility of a scholarship – from a Division 1 school.
There is a broad spectrum of needs and also huge opportunity for potential development in this group of athletes. Eli Brown, nordic coach at the University of Utah, wonders if there may be more kids who want to be on a college ski team than there are spots available. Brown notes, “More opportunities means a stronger pipeline. Stronger pipeline means American Nordic Skiing will only get better!”
There are a variety of good reasons for implementing nordic programs at junior colleges, but not a variety of options. Gogebic College, the first junior college with a fully funded nordic team, plans to try to fulfill those needs. As Brown suggests, “I think this should be a new movement in the sport. In my athletic department, almost every team recruits athletes from junior college programs…why shouldn’t skiing have that?”
The Man with the Vision: Will Andresen
A graduate and integral member of the Northern Michigan University ski team, Will Andresen moved to Ironwood sixteen years ago with distinct memories of racing at the Wolverine Ski Trails where the snow was plentiful, the season long, and the terrain diverse. Working with Community Development, Andresen’s passion for the outdoors helped motivate him to find ways to bring people – especially younger people – to experience what he calls the “nature-based outdoor recreation niche” in the Ironwood, Michigan region.
In the last couple years Andresen has coached the community Gogebic Ski Club. He has also been coaching high school soccer for the past fifteen seasons and says that he loves “working with self-motivated young people and watching them get as close to their potential as they can.”
So when Ironwood’s Gogebic Community College indicated an interest in adding new sports to their list of programs, Andresen was excited to lobby for and become the coach of a cross country ski team in order to share his 37 years of skiing experience and give back to the sport he feels has given him so much.
Andresen’s primary motivation was, as he says, “deeply-rooted in the desire to bring a higher level of nordic skiing to the Ironwood area” and to develop the sport and the community simultaneously.
After getting the go-ahead from Gogebic College, Andresen started talking to current college coaches to get a feel for how the junior college program could fit into the ski community and was pleased to find a great deal of support, as well as additional reasons the program could fill a niche.
“The fact that it may become a feeder program to four-year colleges is an additional bonus to the skiing community.” says Andresen, “In talking with Sten Fjeldheim, Northern Michigan University Ski Team Coach, I knew that he was interested in developing a feeder program. Many skiers were having a hard time jumping up from high school to a four-year college racing experience. Sten believed that offering skiers a year or two with lots of time on snow and individualized coaching attention would enable more skiers to make this leap.”
“I’m hoping to attract skiers with a real passion for the sport who want to reach a new level ,” Andresen explains, adding that because he hopes to attract out-of-state students, he has created a ski team scholarship to help with tuition expenses. His primary focus right now is both getting the word out to high schools and ski clubs around the nation in order to attract these skiers from outside the Ironwood region, and also to develop local talented athletes who have primarily been runners.
Gogebic will be an “associate” member of the Central Collegiate Ski Association (CCSA), allowed to compete in the region’s collegiate races but without the chance to qualify for NCAA’s. Andresen sees this as an added bonus for those athletes who still feel they need time to develop before trying to qualify for the NCAA’s, explaining, “They can compete in the college circuit if they want to see how they match up. And without the burden of trying to qualify for the NCAA’s, they can race in regional citizen races if they would prefer (such as the nearby American Birkebeiner or Marquette’s Noquemanon). Or they can do some of both.”
In December and early January the team will compete in local races. The last two weekends in January they will compete in Super Tour races, and then in February they will race in the CCSA Championships and the NCAA Central Regional Championships.
Gogebic College is a two year academic commitment, offering a wide variety of programs and catering both toward students who would like to enter straight into the labor market and those who will use the program as a stepping stone toward a four-year university. To be eligible to compete, athletes must be enrolled in at least twelve credits, or three classes.
Ironwood is situated in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the U.P.). The area hosts two excellent trail systems, the Wolverine Ski Trails and the ABR Ski Trails, which combine to offer a total of over 50 kilometers of trails winding through the hills and valleys. Both provide excellent opportunity for early-season skiing, and often consistent and abundant snow fall.
The Bottom Line:
“My main objectives are to teach a life-long love for the sport and to help skiers reach their personal goals, whatever they may be,” says Andresen, “I’m excited about the possibilities that this new team brings. I’m hoping that there will be a lot of winners coming out of this, including the skiers, the college, the local community and the sport.”
For more information you can check out the Gogebic running and skiing team brochure:
Or visit the Gogebic College Ski Team page: