In a press conference on Wednesday, the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) announced that it will once again support a Division I ski team, starting this season. For the time being however, the program will only have alpine skiing.
Both the president of the university and the university’s athletic director were present for the announcement, marking the moment. “It has been truly amazing to see how much the program’s return has energized our community,” said Nevada Athletics Director, Stephanie Rempe, “We look forward to this new era of Nevada Skiing and continuing the program’s rich, proud tradition.”
But they acknowledged that having a nordic team is part of that equation, stating a plan to add nordic as soon as it is feasible (i.e. in the budget).
For many decades, beginning in 1936 when skiing was first established at the University, UNR had a successful team that hosted both cross-country and alpine skiing. Over that time, the program produced four Olympians (including Katerina Hanusova Nash, who represented the Czech Republic at five Olympics, three times in cross-country skiing and twice in mountain biking) and earned 14 top-10 team finishes at NCAA Championships. But in 2010 the ski program was cut.
The reinstatement of skiing at UNR was made possible by the University’s recent acquisition of Sierra Nevada University, which had an alpine team already in place. This season’s alpine roster will be composed primarily of athletes who had previously been competing at Sierra Nevada University, with the addition of a few new skiers and transfer students.
UNR’s ski team will compete as part of the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA), which currently has nine member schools, though only five have both alpine and nordic programs.
“We’ve kind of let it be known to the athletic department that if they want to be competitive on the NCAA circuit, they’re going to need to fit in alpine and nordic,” said Gus Johnson, former racer for the UNR cross-country ski team and current advocate for that program’s return. Johnson is also a member of the UNR Ski Team Boosters and nordic sports director for Auburn Ski Club (ASC).
While there are only a handful of people working to bring back nordic to UNR at the moment, Johnson is hopeful about the future, “Being a Division I school, championships are important to them, so they realize that they need to get nordic started and it’s probably two or three years down the road,” he said.
Athletic programs getting cut from college budgets is not unusual, the University of New Mexico is perhaps the most recent skiing example, but it is less common to see those programs make a return. “It’s pretty rare that NCAA programs get reinstated,” said Johnson, “So there’s a glimmer of hope that nordic will be the next step.”
Readers interested in learning more about the effort to add nordic should contact Johnson.
Growing up in Washington’s Methow Valley, Ella was immersed in skiing and the ski community from a young age. From early days bundled in the pulk, to learning to ski as soon as she could walk, to junior racing, a few seasons of collegiate racing, and then to coaching, she has experienced the ski world in many forms. Now, as a recent graduate from Dartmouth College, she finds herself living in France splitting her time between teaching English at a university in Lyon, avidly following ski racing (and now writing about it!) and adventuring in the outdoors as often as possible.