What do you do when you love to ski, go to college to ski and then the program is dropped from the athletic budget?
If you are 2008 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate Nathan Ord, you ski.
Ord, now a senior at Whitman College (Walla Walla, Wash.) and majoring in Biochemistry Biophysics and Molecular Biology (with a math minor), is finishing four seasons of competitive college skiing and four years of varsity college soccer.
As a freshman he raced for the Whitman NCAA Division-I ski team.
After that season the school dropped the funding for the ski team, fired the coach and, generally, left the team stranded on the mountain.
After talks with the school and alumni failed to keep the college program in place, Ord and his teammates found some solace in what was left.
“They did give us enough money to run a well-funded club racing team,” Ord said. “We decided to make do without a coach and race. We have enough to go to races and we drive our own cars.”
Competing in the United States Collegiate Ski Association league, Ord and good friends, and team captains, Tory Anderson and Chris Machesney have run the ski team and kept Whitman College in the competitive mix and spotlight. Five seniors remain from that initial freshman year and are part of team that generally travels with 12 skiers.
“We have all worked together to set gates, train, put together lodging at races, drive to races, and coach each other,” Ord said. “We break it up so each person does the housing for one race, another gets the hotel. The seniors do a lot of the driving.”
The captains attend the coaches meetings to get bibs and sign in racers and review the course. Receipts are kept and turned in after each meet.
“It has worked well but it is a lot of work,” Ord said. “It has been a good experience, doing everything a coach would do, but you put that on top of the college work load at Whitman it can be pretty difficult.”
Ord qualified for the USCSA National Championships as an individual skier at the Western Regional qualifiers in Steamboat Springs Colorado in February.
This means that Ord qualified as the top male finisher who was not on a qualifying team (only the top three teams qualify). According to Ord Whitman was in the running but one of their top three skiers fell in the Slalom and dislocated his shoulder, but still hiked to finish the race.
At the National Championships in March, Ord finished eighth in the Giant Slalom and 11th overall, which earned him two-second team All-American awards.
These were the best finishes Ord has had at the national level.
“It was a great way to end what has been an amazingly fun and rewarding ski racing career at Whitman,” Ord said. “It turned out to be really awesome, almost a Division-I atmosphere.”
Whitman races in the USCSA; a tiny step below the NCAA D-I which features the high-powered schools with eastern European’s and USA ski team members.
“That is where we raced my freshman year,” Ord said. “As a club we are D-3, and there is no D-2. Without a coach and a varsity status designation we could not race D-I. Frankly, we didn’t belong there but we could have made our self-competitive. We would have needed steady training and good coaching and the mountain at Whitman is pretty flat, Eaglecrest puts it to shame.”
In a few months, however, the semester will end and budgets will be reviewed.
“We are guessing the team will lose a lot more of their budget,” Ord said. “The seniors this year all initially came to this college to ski race. That was a large motivation to come here. When that program was cut we got together and said we had to make the best of it.” When Whitman College cut its ski racing team that turned away other accomplished skiers.
“We think the school will regret losing this,” Ord said. “The seniors all came from and grew up in high powered racing programs and I don’t think the underclassman understand the work involved to run the program here.”
Ord hopes to continue ski racing in a masters program. He has also taken an interest in medical school. Ord spent last summer doing research at the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle and is considering continuing his degree in that direction. That would involve up to nine years of study and a residency and put a crimp in ski time.
“Yeah that would be a major road block,” Ord said. “But seriously, if and when I am ever in Juneau I will definitely be trying to help out with the ski racers. Hopefully set an example. I started on Eaglecrest when I was eight and I certainly never thought I was going to grow up and be a ski racer until I saw some of the guys jumping off of stuff and talked my dad into signing me up.”
Ord advised young skiers to get on the mountains as much as they can.
“Eaglecrest is amazing,” Ord said. “It makes great skiers. In terms of racing, just ski as much as you can, try to improve, and the biggest advice is just to have fun.”