Created: 11 August 2020

A Wasatch Academy student enjoya an on-campus skate session between classes. Wasatch Academy is a college-prep boarding school for students in grades 7-12 located in Mount Pleasant, Utah. 

We sat down with Wasatch Academy’s Director of Snowsports, Chris Nester, to chat about the advantages of boarding school in the time of COVID-19, what it means to for student-athletes to have their own private snow and skatepark (with a rope tow and private cat for hot laps!!) and how Wasatch Academy’s newly developed competition program for USASA athletes offers the next generation the best of both worlds. Did we mention Mount Pleasant, Utah, home of Wasatch Academy’s 300 boarding students is perfectly located with easy access to seven national monuments, five national parks and 14 of the best ski and snowboard resorts this country has to offer? 

USASA competitors and members of Wasatch Academy's competition program, Cael McCarthy and Axel Bonenberger, show off a little USASA hardware. Photo: Wasatch Academy

As Director of Snowsports at Wasatch Academy, tell us about your snowboard and freeskiing programs and how being in central Utah plays into athlete opportunities?

Wasatch Academy skiing and snowboarding programs are for all levels. Our most popular program is our First Tracks; skiing and snowboarding with friends every weekend during the winter months. We have a lodge slopeside at Brighton resort for our students to stay in! We also have a program for students that compete in USASA, Future Tour, and Rev Tour events. The students interested in competing have the advantage of training on our private hill with our terrain park located 20 minutes from campus, and working with our excellent coaching staff along with a partnership with Park City Ski and Snowboard team and coaches. Being located in the center of Utah means we are lucky to be at the crossroads of so many great resorts for training and competition. We are 2 hours south of Park City and 6 hours from Copper and 8 hours from Mammoth. 

What makes Wasatch Academy's snowboard or freeskiing experience unique? 
 Our school is amazing! Consider getting a first-class education along with a robust skiing and snowboarding program. Our facilities are second to none. We are a non-profit school established in 1875 so we have just a little experience in education!! We are an international school with students from more than 40 countries. We offer core academic classes to prepare our students for college, but what makes us special is our diverse range of course opportunities; from rock climbing to engineering and video game design. 
Just to give you a snapshot of what we offer several of our students will be in our private skatepark before and after school or just hanging out with friends. You can find students building rails for our skate or snow park in the engineering building or even putting together video or photo edits in one of several editing classes. Did I mention the recording studio and digital audio classes for adding your favorite beats! I mean really what you get here is a world-class academic education that builds on the skills needed for the modern world. We also have 100% college acceptance for our students. 

Axel Bonenberger getting lofty at USASA's Big Mountain West event at Park City, UT. Photo: Wasatch Academy

Last year was the first year you had an elite competition program at Wasatch Academy, how did this come about and how did it go? 
Amazing, I am so proud of our athletes. We needed to start an elite team so I looked around the U.S. for young talent. I found two young men age 14 that were just killing it in competition and as great human beings. We were the youngest team and newest team on the block and we had a great time! We competed in USASA, Rev, and Futures tours and we were the youngest athletes most of the time. We trained with the Park City Freeski Team and it was perfect. Unfortunately because of the COVID-19 virus, we had to scale down our financial aid and I will do everything in my power to get these student-athletes back next year!

When students aren't snowboarding and skiing on your private hill and terrain park what other recreational activities are available? 

We do love pre-season training! We have a first-class weight room, multiple gyms, and an indoor rock wall and bouldering room. Otherwise, we will use the airbag at the Olympic Park, and of course the new Woodward at Park City. Wasatch also has popular outdoor adventure programs. We hike and camp in the 5 national parks just a few hours south of campus or rock climb at some of the best sites in Utah. Another popular adventure is mountain biking at the resorts or on some of the world-class trails around Moab.

 Access to Park City's Olympic Park with airbags and off-season training are just some of the perks.
We can't really address anything in 2020 without talking about COVID. How is Wasatch Academy adjusting its program to ensure the safety of all its students?
This year will have its challenges! Fortunately, because our school is a boarding school we are living on campus. This is a huge advantage because everyone is going to be tested and quarantined on arrival at the beginning of the school year. After we have been given the green light or tested negative our students will have regular class schedules and activities specifically planned to keep the virus out of our community. Also, consider that we are located in a very small town in the center of rural Utah. We are currently considered a safe area but we have, as most all of us have, had COVID in our communities. I guess you could look at it like we are creating a giant bubble of safety around our campus. The word is getting out about our school and our plans regarding COVID and our admissions team has seen a dramatic increase in calls.
I know you have some big goals for your snowboard and freeski programs, can you share some of your vision for Wasatch Academy's future student-athletes? 
I meet with so many families when they visit and tour our campus. I hear what the students want and what the parents want and it is loud and clear: get my son and daughter out of the house or dorm and into the outdoors. When I speak with the students I hear get me on a bike, wall, or snow as much as possible! So that's what I do. Let's not forget that we have education and classwork to finish while on our adventures but with a little determination and time management we ultimately find the balance. My big goal is to help students find a balance between reaching their outdoor and academic goals. However, I really enjoy the students that really work hard for their goals whether its learning a new trick or making it to USASA Nationals or beyond, my vision is to have the most supportive outdoor programming for students that want a serious academic, social and emotional growth opportunity at a real school.

Learn more about Wasatch Academy and their open enrollment and freeski and snowboard programs here.

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