Many college students come to Utah for its educational opportunities and some come for the skiing. Westminster College will be touting both come next season when it kicks off its competitive ski and snowboard athletic teams.
"It's a good fit for the college being so close to some of the best skiing in the world," said Chris Hendrickson, who was recently hired to head up the team at Westminster. He praised Utah's various skiing venues for purposes of training and racing.
About six men and six women will be recruited to ski for the private Utah college, as well as six men and six women for its snowboard team. Hendrickson said the announcement has already generated a lot of interest among current students.
"We want to have student athletes who do well both athletically and academically," he said. "One doesn't go without the other. We want them to be successful on the slopes and in the classroom."
The addition of men's and women's alpine skiing and snowboarding teams will give the Westminster Griffins a total of 12 teams competing in intercollegiate athletics. They hope to compete at both regional and national events, participating in the U.S. Collegiate Association, in the Grand Teton Conference. They also hope to be included in various NCAA invitationals.
More than 178 colleges from coast to coast field approximately 4,700 alpine, cross-country and snowboarding athletes in more than 200 racing events annually. Competition takes place across three progressive tiers, while conference qualifiers determine the participants at regional U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association events.
Hendrickson will lead the teams after moving back to Utah from Lake Tahoe. Westminster athletic director Shay Wyatt said he is excited to have Hendrickson back in Utah and coaching Griffin teams.
"I believe his experience will enable us to establish a quality men's and women's alpine and snowboarding program," he said. "Coach Hendrickson shares the vision we have for our athletic program and has the drive and commitment to reach the goals we have set forth both academically and athletically."
After skiing on the University of Utah team as a student, Hendrickson coached junior programs at Park City Ski Resort and Snowbird, and spent several years working with the U.S. Ski Team as an assistant coach. He has a bachelor's degree in leisure studies from the U.
"It's in the blood," he said.
Conditioning will begin on the first day of the upcoming fall semester and Hendrickson said they'll hit the slopes at the earliest opportunity."We are going to train hard and smart and we want to compete at the highest level," he said. Training for the team could include ski trips four to five times each week, "to keep in best shape."