Higher Education: The Lonesome, Crowded West

Downtown Salt Lake City. Photo: Andy Wright
Downtown Salt Lake City. Photo: Andy Wright
Higher Education: The Lonesome, Crowded West

The West is huge. It’s sprawling, virgin and rippled with mountains for thousands of miles. But its breadth can create a daunting task of pairing a post education with legitimate, local shredding. And we all know the life of a weekend warrior is rough. Some of the West’s best riding lays far from a population capable of supporting a worthwhile academic institution. The terrain is easy to lure you away from studies, and unfortunately, there are no degrees in pow or park that we know of (yet!).

So ask yourself, what are you seeking? If it’s just riding, then go! Ride. Explore. Be a bum! Then go to school later, when you’re serious about it. If you have the parental and scholarship backing, then milk it, and go where school meets snow. Take on both and go get a shr-education. A good place to start is here, with this TWS compiled list (in random order) of ride-ready universities and colleges of the West.


Tahoe transplant Danny Davis warming up in the Northstar pipe. Photo: Chris Wellhausen
Tahoe transplant Danny Davis warming up in the Northstar pipe. Photo: Chris Wellhausen

University of Nevada
Reno, Nevada

Reno? Like the show Reno 911? Weird! But seriously, this place rests in the cradle of Tahoe with some fifteen resorts just a short drive from “The Biggest Little City In The World.” UNR has top notch Journalism, Engineering, Business and Nursing programs aside from hosting one of the last and most respected School of Mines (i.e. geology, mining) in the country. The Reno-Tahoe basin has a burgeoning outdoor community, but it can be a mini-Vegas if you want it to be-gambling, strippers, washed up music acts, weird tourists…all that junk. But that’s just a small sliver of the city. The place has a nice, small town charm and the casino scene is easily avoidable. And with a buffet of resorts just minutes from downtown, you have your choice of some of the country’s best parks. Snowpark Technologies (SPT) got their start here at Northstar and you can even trace some of the very first halfpipes to the Donner Ranch area. Hell, West Coast snowboarding in many ways was conceived here in Tahoe.

Nearest resort(s): Mt. Rose (26 miles), Northstar-at-Tahoe (36 miles), Diamond Peak (36 miles), Alpine Meadows (45 miles), Squaw Valley (44 miles), Boreal (42 miles), Sugar Bowl (43 miles), Donner Ski Ranch (43 miles), Kingvale (47 miles), Heavenly (62 miles), Sierra-at-Tahoe (78 miles), Kirkwood (81 miles).

Website: unr.edu

Snowboard club/team: n/a

Bluebird at Baker. Skylar Thornton gets some. Photo: Chris Wellhausen
Bluebird at Baker. Skylar Thornton gets some. Photo: Chris Wellhausen

Western Washington University
Bellingham, Washington

Western Washington University is as close to Canada as you can get without applying for citizenship. It’s right on the water, twenty minutes to the border and about an hour and a half to the legendary Mount Baker. The claim to fame? Snow, and lots of it. Baker holds the world record for snowfall-1,140 inches in 1998/1999. While the Baker Hardcore crew (think Mike Ranquet, Craig Kelly) is a thing of the past, there’s a new life in hardcore locals like Lucas DeBari, Pat McCarthy, Blair Habenicht, Mark Landvik, Jake Blauvelt and many more who fuel the scene and call this place home. There’s backcountry for days, accessible right off the lifts and enough drizzly, down days to finish your homework before it’s really on.

Nearest resort(s): Mount Baker (52 miles), Mount Seymour (63 miles), Grouse Mountain (60 miles), Whistler/Blackcomb (128 miles), Summit at Snoqualmie (140 miles)

Website: wwu.edu

Snowboard club/team: WWU Snowboard Club

Scott Stevens Keystone. Photo: Chris Wellhausen
Scott Stevens gets weird in the Keystone park, just an hour and a half from CU Boulder. Photo: Chris Wellhausen

University of Colorado
Boulder, Colorado

Home to the largest snowboard club in the country, Boulder has a thriving shred scene in the heart of Colorado. It can also be one of the largest party schools in the country, just a warning. Ex-pro Pat Abramson heads things up for the CU Snowboard Team as coach, while the Boulder Freeride Club has more of a lax gathering and arranges trips anywhere from Jackson Hole to Innsbruck. Boulder’s strong academics speak for themselves and the town tends to curate a never-ending lineup of music acts. There’s night riding at Keystone and the ever close Echo Mountain so you can get laps in after dark. Keep your eyes out for the multi-mountain Epic Pass, it’s priced for the college boarder.

Nearest resort(s): Eldora (18 miles), Echo Mountain Park (62 miles), Loveland (75 miles), Arapahoe Basin (82 miles), Winter Park (87 miles), Keystone (92 miles), Copper Mountain (100 miles), Breckenridge (102 miles), Vail (118)

Website: colorado.edu

Snowboard club/team: CU snowboard Team, Boulder Freeride Club

Brian Joenig buried at Bridger Bowl. Photo: Jeff Hawe
Brian Joenig buried at Bridger Bowl. Photo: Jeff Hawe

Montana State University
Bozeman, Montana

Cowboys, 'Ridge Hippies’ and academia mesh in this small mountain town of 30,000 people. While known as an agriculture and engineering school, Montana State also has a sprouting film and photo program. Given its proximity to backcountry exits and a few choice resorts, Bozeman served as the alma mater for more than one TWSnow editor. The community-owned and run Bridger Bowl resort is a quick half hour drive and notorious for big dumps and steep terrain. Big Sky claims the park for the region and nearly 4,000 acres to shred, too. For those who just won the lottery or have the combined wealth of some hundred trustifarians, you can go south and shred all the lift-accessed private powder you want at the Yellowstone Club. Hell, you might even share a lift ride with a Hollywood celeb or CEO big wig. Back in reality, Beartooth Pass and the sledneck city known as Cook City, offer weekend backcountry escapes where the snow stays long after the semester ends. If there’s a storm looming you can pack up the rig and jet to Jackson Hole, it’s just over four hours away.

Nearest resort(s): Bridger Bowl (18 miles), Big Sky (50 miles), Moonlight Basin (52 miles)

Website: montana.edu

Snowboard club/team: Backcountry Riding Club

Jeremy Jones with a hefty leap in the SLC suburbs. Photo: Andy Wright
Jeremy Jones with a hefty leap in the SLC suburbs. Photo: Andy Wright

University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah

U of U lays in the belly the shred beast that is Salt Lake City. The university offers a full run of programs and the state’s only accredited architecture program and medical school. Education aside, there’s no wonder why pro after pro decide to call this city home. A quick jet up Cottonwood Canyon leaves you at the base of some of the best riding in the country with some of the lightest, driest powder you can find. Snowbird gets hammered and if you ride there on a pow day and you’ll be sharing the tram with anyone from MFM and Aaron Biittner to an old school loc’ like Kurt Wastell. Just over the ridge is the jib playground of Brighton, where you can hone your early season jib skills and rip under the lights after class. Just a little further and you’ll hit the world-class parks and pipes of Park City. But don’t sleep on the less frequented resorts. The Canyons, Snowbasin and Powder Mountain can and will surprise you. That’s only half of the equation because as any well-versed snowboarder knows, Salt Lake is famed for its street riding just as much as its resorts. Street riding sprouted from the rails and the city’s urban interface. It continues to shine year after year, video part upon video part.

Nearest resort(s): Snowbird (20 miles), Solitude (23 miles), Brighton (25 miles), The Canyons (25 miles), Park City (28 miles), Snow Basin (47 miles), Powder Mountain (54 miles)

Website: utah.edu

Snowboard club/team: One Love Snowboard Club

Johnnie Paxson after hours half cab at Mt. Hood Ski Bowl. Photo: Darcy Bacha
Johnnie Paxson after hours half cab at Mt. Hood Ski Bowl. Photo: Darcy Bacha

Portland State University
Portland, Oregon

Picking one school in Portland really is not fair. The place is packed with institutions of higher learning-from artsy design schools like the Art Institute of Portland and Pacific Northwest College of Art, to private schools like Lewis and Clark and Concordia University. Portland State takes the cake by boasting the largest student body in the state with a center near the heart of downtown. That’s not all from “The City of Roses” because year round shredding sits little over an hour away. Mount Hood Meadows, Ski Bowl and Timberline are the three main resorts that rest on the stratovolcano that is Mount Hood. You’ll find wind lips galore, park booters and heavy pow droppings on the iconic cinder cone. When spring semester wraps you can easily stay for summer and rip the public park at Timberline or drop into a summer session at Windell’s or HCSC. A progressive city with cheap living, fresh culture and notable skating, how could you go wrong?

Nearest resort(s): Mount Hood Skibowl (52 miles), Timberline (59 miles), Mount Hood Meadows (64 miles), Mount Bachelor (180 miles)

Website: pdx.edu

Snowboard club/team: PSU Snowboard Club

Misty nights at Steven's Pass. Photo: Jordan Ingmire
Misty nights at Steven's Pass. Photo: Jordan Ingmire

University of Washington
Seattle, Washington

U-dub is backed by big claims-it’s the largest university in the Northwestern U.S., one of the oldest universities on the West Coast and one of the most prominent research schools in the world. It’s tucked in the Puget Sound where the Cascade Range looms in the west and the Olympic Range rises in the east. The crazy bananas at Mervin Manufacturing pump boards out from Sequim on the peninsula. A handful of other brands like Ride and K2 and call the Seattle area home, too. Park laps are just an hour away at Summit at Snoqualmie and when it dumps, Crystal Mountain and Steven’s Pass are the place to be. For nocturnal boarding, hit up the night riding at Snoqualmie and Stevens. Missions to Baker and Whistler take a couple hours, but they’re well worth the time, trust us.

Nearest resort(s): Summit at Snoqualmie (55 miles), Steven’s Pass (86 miles), Crystal Mountain (87 miles), Hurricane Ridge (104 miles), Mount Baker (111 miles)

Website: washington.edu

Snowboard club/team: University of Washington Snowboard Team

Benji Ritchie in the B.C. backcountry. Photo: Scott Serfas
Benji Ritchie in the B.C. backcountry. Photo: Scott Serfas

University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia

UBC ranks in the world’s Top 40 Universities on numerous academic lists, but its proximity to one of the world’s best resorts (Whistler/Blackcomb) and bounty of backcountry shredding make it nearly number one on our list. UBC is famed for its film school, but it’s a giant institution offering studies in just about every discipline. The campus sits in prime real estate, flanked by water and claiming the furthermost point of Vancouver’s western peninsula. You’ll find mountains Grouse and Seymour minutes from the glassy downtown. Both offer night riding and parks with beautiful views of Vancouver’s waterways. A quick journey north dumps you off at North America’s largest resort, Whistler/Blackcomb. For the backcountry minded, the numerous trailheads leading into the B.C. backcountry from Squamish to Pemberton are nothing short of epic. Now pack your bags and pray for sun.

Nearest resort(s): Cypress Mountain (15 miles), Grouse Mountain (16 miles), Mount Seymour (20 miles), Mount Baker (56 miles), Whistler/Blackcomb (83 miles)

Website: ubc.ca

Snowboard club/team: UBC Ski & Board

Dustin Craven Sunshine Mountain. Photo: Ashley Barker
Dustin Craven Sunshine Mountain. Photo: Ashley Barker

University of Calgary
Calgary, Alberta

TransWorld’s Art Attack used to call this place home. It gets cold, dark, and weird-a perfect brew for pouring time into arts and crafts. U of C is a comprehensive research university composed of nearly thirty thousand students with a campus footprint larger than Calgary’s entire downtown. Interpret 'research’ how you want and if you’re headed there, do a little of your own and check the haps at Calgary Is Awesome. Notable shredders like Andrew Hardingham, Jed Anderson, Dustin Craven and TJ Schneider also came up here. If you pop in any shred flick from the last couple years, you’re bound to see the city’s urban shredding potential, too. You’ve seen Jed Anderson’s rail prowess-it all started here. While sunshine might be elusive during a winter in the Canadian Rockies, the plus side is that the mountains maintain a cold, dry climate and ensure light, fluffy pow. And you can get at loads of it with an epic weekend rally to Revelstoke, quite possibly the world’s one and only megaresort.

Nearest resort(s): Canada Olympic Park (10 miles), Nakiska (50 miles), Fortress Mountain Resort (74 miles), Norquay (80 miles), Sunshine Village (81 miles), Lake Louise (126 miles), Castle Mountain (160 miles), Kickinghorse (169 miles), Fernie (191 miles)

Website: ucalgary.ca

Snowboard club/team: U of C Snowboard Club

A westward glance from Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. Photo: Ben Gavelda
A westward glance from Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. Photo: Ben Gavelda

Notable Mentions And Starter Schools
We listed the big ones, but there are plenty more little guys out there. Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington and California’s Bay Area are packed with schools. So are the other Western States. Below is a short list of additional schools near shredding.

Boise State University
Boise, Idaho
boisestate.edu

While not in the epicenter of shredding, Boise State has serious backcountry potential in the Sawtooth and Payette Mountains. Bogus Basin is just 20 miles away and Sun Valley is around a three hours’ drive, too.

Central Oregon Community College
Bend, Oregon
cocc.edu

Deemed 'cocc on the rock’ by locals, this Oregon State University offshoot is a shared venture between OSU and COCC that offers two and four-year programs. It’s in the eastern shade of the Cascade Mountains and bucks the coastal Oregon gloom, replacing it with sunshine, snow and Mount Bachelor.

Cerro Coso Community College
Mammoth Lakes, California
cerrocoso.edu

Here you will find quite possibly the most scenic dorms and a small student body almost solely there for the shredding-just like you.

Colorado Mountain College(s)
Aspen, Breckenridge, Carbondale, Dillon, Edwards, Glenwood Springs, Leadville, Steamboat Springs
coloradomtn.edu

Pick your poison here. CMC has two and four-year preparatory schools in any number of these mountain locations. Where else can you get a degree in snowboard resort management?

Fort Lewis College
Durango, Colorado
fortlewis.edu

'Fort Leisure’ is isolated in the rugged San Juan Mountains and near Durango Mountain Resort, Silverton Mountain, Wolf Creek, Telluride and Crested Butte. It’s a full, four-year college with many notable programs.

Sierra Nevada College
Incline Village, Nevada
sierranevada.edu

It can’t get any better than livin’ at the lake. It’s a killer option closer to Tahoe’s many resorts. Go if you have the loot to.

Truckee Meadows Community College
Reno, Nevada
tmcc.edu

TMCC is a great prep school that offers many programs where the University of Nevada, Reno fails to. The school offers many great online courses so you can learn after park laps.

Got a notable school close to legit shredding we should add? Leave a comment and explain to us why.