Eagle's Eye

SNC Winter Sports Face Uncertain Future

Budget cuts and coaching changes leave more questions than answers for skiers, snowboarders

Gabby Dodd, Reporter

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Since its founding in 1969, Sierra Nevada College has been an educational institution built around Tahoe’s snow culture. As recently as 2012, U.S. News and World Report named SNC “the best college for skiers and snowboarders in the country.” But a series of changes to the college’s operational budget, the addition of new team sports to SNC’s athletics roster, and the departure of two ski and snowboard coaches have left students questioning the future of SNC’s winter sports.

Connor Clayton is currently the coach for the freeski team and also a senior student at SNC. Clayton said he decided to attend SNC because the school had a good budget and scholarships for freeskiing.

“When I came here for my first year, the freeski team was pretty awesome,” he said. “We went on a training trip to Colorado in December, and I was able to compete in a Rev Tour there, and that was all on the school’s budget.”

During his years at SNC, the snow sport budget has declined, Clayton said, due in part to the school’s decision to reacha wider demographic by adding sports like lacrosse and soccer to its athletic team offerings.

“The money just isn’t there to support athletes in their own goals anymore. Our budget is mostly just for USCSA Nationals,” Clayton said.

SNC’s alpine racers have also experienced budget cuts. Since 2014, the alpine ski team budget has been reduced 50 percent, with a 30 percent drop from last year to this year, according to senior Elias Stuerz, a member of the team.

Senior alpine ski racer Caroline Sanden said, “We cannot do as many races now as we would have hoped for. Now we need to cancel some of our races, but we are trying to do some fundraising.”

Competing in the greatest possible number of International Ski Federation (FIS) races allows the team to earn points that help the racers to reduce their travel expenses.

“If we cannot compete in FIS races because we cannot afford to go there, we don’t get the points we need,” Stuerz said.

Senior snowboard team member, Rachel Lightner, said that it is “very rare” to find a college that has a snowboard or freeski program, and that budget cuts are changing the long-standing tradition of winter sports at SNC.

“We’ve added numerous field sports to our athletics program,” Lightner said. “It’s awesome that we are expanding as a school and inviting more students from different backgrounds, but I definitely think that it is taking away from the importance of keeping our roots in the ski and snowboard community.”

The winter sports teams have also lost critical coaching staff. Last year, Jon Cherry stepped down from his long-term position as head coach for both the freestyle ski and snowboard teams.

The teams were left without coaches for several months until student athletes Connor Clayton and Freddie McCarthy took over the positions.

“[Clayton and McCarthy] have to work with the athletic director, worry about funds, and coach us,” Lightner said. “Meanwhile, they’re students, too, and they have to deal with their education. That puts a lot of pressure on our own student athletes, which I don’t think is fair.”

A few months ago, the alpine team suffered another loss when athletic director and head alpine coach Branko Zagar left SNC.

“It was a shock,” Sanden said. “He called us in August to tell us he wasn’t coming back.”

Stuerz is “95 percent certain” he will be taking over the coaching role for the alpine racers starting this season. He plans to graduate in December, which will free up his time to focus on coaching.

Cole Lyon, sophomore and freeski team member, said it is “disheartening” to see the changes happening to winter sports at SNC. “I would like to see more support for the freeski team especially, and possibly a little bit bigger of a budget. The college shouldn’t count snowboard and freeski as the same team because we’re really not,” he said.

Lyon is concerned that the winter sports teams could face problems with recruitment and enrollment in the future because the teams “aren’t what they used to be.” He is currently participating in an SNC marketing internship in which he uses focus groups to learn more about student demographics.

“One of the things we’re seeing is that students’ second choices for schools are good ski colleges in Colorado, Utah, and Vermont,” Lyon said.

“I definitely see an issue with more potential students choosing those schools over SNC if our ski programs don’t change.”

Interim athletic director and soccer coach Christian DeLeon said he doesn’t think SNC’s focus on its winter sports teams is being diluted.

“In my mind, it would not be a wise decision for the school to just focus on field sports,” DeLeon said.

He said that while field sports like soccer, cross country, and lacrosse may not be the “typical” sports for this type of mountain-based college, they still attract the kind of student enrollment numbers needed to keep the college afloat.

DeLeon added that he wants the various teams in the athletic department to “work as a whole” and support each other. “I think that the winter sports have had such a legacy, year in year out, and I really want to continue that,” he said.

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SNC Winter Sports Face Uncertain Future