CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. At this remote ski resort, going to "boarding school" means spending as much time in a snow-packed terrain park as a high school classroom.
The students at the college preparatory school here even wake up in a hotel and spa that once housed a Club Med, a location that gives the skiers among them slope-side access to some of the most famed expert terrain in the country.
But for the 70 youths enrolled at Crested Butte Academy, the similarities to being on vacation end there.
On a recent day, those who live on campus rise before dawn for a mandatory breakfast appearance before joining the day students at a nearby building for an hour of strength training with their performance coach.
Brendan Gerard, a shaggy-haired 17-year-old and four-year academy veteran, arrives last because he's been scraping the wax off the bottom of his snowboard. He's soon groaning alongside two dozen other teenagers, some of whom begin stripping off their ski caps and tossing them aside with the parkas, boots and other layers of clothing that already sit in piles around the perimeter of the dimly lit room.
The students listen up as Bud Keene, who coached snowboarder Shaun White to Olympic gold in 2006, enters the room to put strict limits on the use of portable music players on the slopes. Keene, who joined the academy last spring as director of snowboarding and freeride skiing, allows a split-second for any questions.
"Everybody got that? Cool."
The new iPod edict comes as a blow to some of the kids in the room. But the change is just a tiny tweak compared with the complete turnaround in the school's once lax standards and near-bankrupt status.
The school's reversal of fortunes gained momentum when the school was absorbed last year into the IMG sports and talent agency, the behemoth that has operated in 30 countries and represents big names such as Tiger Woods.
Its far-flung business now includes widespread media and entertainment interests and a division that operates a dozen sports-specific academies aimed at churning out future greats.
The winter sports emphasis at Crested Butte Academy filled a gap in IMG's diverse portfolio of schools, some of which cater to tennis players and golfers, even future trophy fishers. The deep-pocketed IMG has allowed the academy here to do more than just keep the doors open. It has moved from aging quarters and dilapidated dormitories to relatively posh resort digs that have it claiming to be the only ski-in, ski-out private school in the country.
Its recruitment efforts the school has almost doubled its full-time enrollment in a year and now brings dozens of youths in for weeklong training sessions have been aided by its ability to lure big-name coaches.
A typical day also involves four hours on the snow and four hours in the classroom. There are three daily meals designed by a nutritionist, stretching, strength-training and mental-conditioning programs, as well as a two-hour study hall in the evenings.
The intensive athletic and academic experience comes at a price: $34,000 a year for tuition, room and board.
The cost doesn't include multiweek summer training camps that often involve international travel.
The academy was founded as an alternative high school for local kids whose parents wanted them to attend high school in town rather than down the valley in Gunnison.
It went out of business briefly in the middle of the 2003-04 school year, only to be revived as a nonprofit, sports-focused prep school several days later. It lacked enough coaches to support the new approach. And the purchase of a new building eventually put the cash-strapped school over the edge.
"This was a third-tier boarding school a school that survived by admitting everyone they could," says Graham Frey, who became the school's headmaster just before the start of the 2006-07 school year. "It was a mess."
About three months after arriving on campus, Frey boarded an airplane bound for Bradenton, Fla., home to IMG Academies and the campus of its biggest and best-known sports academy programs.
"If this place was going to make it, it needed a strong financial partner," says Frey, who made a pitch that eventually led to the IMG deal.
Despite all the time spent on the mountain, the highly structured lifestyle and all of the rules can prove daunting.
"You do lose a lot of your freedom. And it's definitely not part of snowboarding society to be restricted," says snowboarding student Gerard, who spent the early part of his youth in Cleveland. "I miss out on the whole party scene, but how can I be bummed when I get to snowboard when they're in school?"