Crested Butte. PHOTO: JC Leacock
Crested Butte. PHOTO: JC Leacock

Boarding School: The Pros of Going to College in a Mountain Town

Words| Tom Monterosso

It's every kid's dream to become a professional snowboarder, right? Okay, so now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's be real. The chances of that happening are rather slim. However, that doesn't mean that you can't keep snowboarding as much as humanly possible. Likewise, if you in fact are that good and can make it to the big leagues, the shelf life of your average pro rider is five to six years at best. Even if you manage to make a somewhat decent living for a few seasons, do you have a backup plan? Well, luckily for you, this piece delves into the pros of going to college in a mountain town so you can plan your days on hill around your days in the classroom, or set yourself up for a plush career post pro riding. We've queried some of snowboarding's brightest minds about why they choose to go to school while chasing a professional boarding career as well as others who decided to go back to college once their riding days were over. Read up and make the decision for yourself.

Chris Engelsman in Gunnison, home to Western State Colorado University. PHOTO: Nate Christenson

There are so many benefits of going to school in a mountain town, even if you're not a diehard snowboarder. The mountains are said to clear the mind, reset the brain and allow for someone to go into many situations at elevation with a fresh outlook. But the benefits are even greater if you spend the majority of your time playing in the mountains. Universities like Plymouth State, The University of Utah and Western State Colorado University are a great place to start, as many pro riders and industry veterans have emerged from these schools over the past few years. Not to mention that each of these schools are just minutes away from world-class resorts.

While pursuing a pro career, Mike Ravelson attended Plymouth State in New Hampshire from 2008-2012.

Rav: "School was just something I had to complete on the side to ensure I could continue boarding. I realize now that it was good for me to have something other than snowboarding to channel energy into. I think the main thing I took from it was learning to problem solve, which I use in my snowboarding career daily. The longer you're in the snowboarding industry, you realize that careers are short, so the piece of paper you get for graduating after four years means a bit more." PHOTO: Cole Martin

Two of the most promising young upstarts in snowboarding right now attend The University of Utah. We queried Nils Mindnich, a Mechanical Engineering student, and Griffin Siebert, an Environmental Geoscience student, and their replies were indicative of both their wisdom beyond their years as well as their far-sighted ability to focus on their education above all else.

Nils: "In middle school, I figured graduating high school would be good enough. I paid my tuition at a private school, which made me value my education. I also got dropped by all of my sponsors my junior year. So after using my college savings to graduate high school, I knew I’d invested too much time and money to stop my education then. I was pretty interested in applied sciences and decided to start chipping away at classes the next fall. Mechanical Engineering was this high, unrealistic goal that was going to take eight years to complete, so it made sense to throw a Hail Mary and go for it. I figured I would drop out a couple years into it, or stop going to school if snowboarding took off again. Yet five years later here we are, starting my junior year and going into my fifth season filming." PHOTO: E-Stone

Griffin: "I believe knowledge is power, so why not gain as much as possible? I have always enjoyed learning new things and am a serious nerd deep down. Snowboarding has been my favorite passion in life, and always will be. But balancing your life with other interests and goals is a very healthy thing. I fortunately was raised by the SLC [Salt Lake City] snowboard scene and got to watch some elder professional snowboarders come out on top after their career, and unfortunately witnessed some of them not end up in the best place after their snowboarding careers were over. These opportunities we are blessed with do not last for long, and I feel you have to treat every contract as if it was your last and enjoy every minute of it. So the importance of school is to have something to fall back on after the storm is over. To me, an education is filled with incredible experiences, and people you get to meet outside of the snowboard community. It's inspiring to learn about incredible thinkers that have helped to build this society we live in today and realize that there is a much bigger world outside of snowboarding, with much bigger problems that affect humans, ecosystems, environments and cultures. Life is a much better experience with snowboarding in it, and I try to implement the stoke, positivity and skills I have learned on my snowboard and from other snowboarders into different mediums in life, like science and art." PHOTO: Andrew Miller

We also spoke with some former pros who have now left a legacy in snowboarding culture. Chris Engelsman (aka E-Tree) attended Western State Colorado University and looks back on that decision as one of the best of his life.

E-Tree: "I was on my way to CU [University of Colorado] Boulder until I went to Mt. Hood and met Brian Delaney and Kurt Hoy. Both of them had attended Western, and Brian grew up in Boulder. He told me the mountains were too far from Boulder and that I should check out Western, which is just 30 minutes down the road from Crested Butte. My parents thought I should check the school out before making the move, and while I was out there I rode Crested Butte, and it was settled: I was going to attend Western, and it ultimately helped launch my snowboard career. I was able to snowboard every day while I was there. That first year it snowed 20 out of 28 days in February. I never thought then I would end up in publishing, but strangely enough, many of us in Gunnison and Crested Butte ended up in media. Kurt Hoy, who suggested I attend Western, eventually became the editor of TransWorld SNOWboarding and there was also a handful of other people there at that time who ended up in media and snow sports: Derek Taylor, Seth Morrison, Dave Swanwick and the MSP [Matchstick Productions] guys. So there was a bunch of us who eventually ended up living our dreams. The class sizes there were small and it was a tight-knit community. You could show up at the hill every day, pop into Colorado Boarder and go ride with someone." PHOTO: Nate Christenson

Former Kingpin Films standout and backcountry badass Lukas Huffman spent his decade-long career in snowboarding in front of the lens. But when all was said and done, he went back to school for filmmaking and now runs his own company with his brother Jesse where they write, direct and produce narrative films, commercials and branded content. Lukas attended Columbia University in New York City--the diametric opposite of a mountain town.

Lukas: "For me it was just a matter of time. In 1996, the first year I started 'professionally' snowboarding, I deferred my enrollment in college for a year. As my snowboard career developed, I kept pushing off going to college. When it came time to retire from snowboarding I was stoked to finally be going to college to experience new intellectual and cultural challenges. Snowboarding takes a lot of physical intelligence that does not translate into the college experience. The harshest part of the transition is that I hated sitting all day long and living in your head for most of the day. It took me a long time to figure out how to balance that with all the energy that a professional snowboarder normally burns. The one big skill from snowboarding that translates into the college experience--and throughout my entire life--is my understanding of grit. When you are professionally snowboarding you get up and try to accomplish all this stuff every day. You have to keep pushing forward, even if it feels like you’re never going to land a trick, or get the video part you want, etc. Being a college student involves a lot of perseverance even when things are not going your way." PHOTO: Dano Pendygrasse

If there is anything to take from this piece, it's that higher education and snowboarding are not mutually exclusive. Dozens of industry veterans have emerged from colleges from coast to coast. If you do your research and work hard, living in a mountain town while chasing a degree is well within reach.

If you're on the hunt for schools that mix books and boarding, make sure to check out go.western.edu and plan a visit to Western State Colorado University. When get to campus, you'll score a half-price lift ticket to Crested Butte Mountain Resort. You can even schedule to link up with the Freeride team.