Why so many Olympic skiers and snowboarders develop in New England

Lindsey Jacobellis (left) competed in snowboardcross at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Taking even a quick glance at Team USA’s ski and snowboard roster, it’s impossible to miss the myriad ties that athletes have to New England. Whether they grew up in the area, traveled to it for school, or return to it for training, the region has been instrumental in shaping the lives of American Olympians.

It’s a pattern that took root decades ago, and continues to thrive in 2022. The Dartmouth College ski team, for example, can claim to have had at least one skier on every United States Olympic team since the first Winter Games in 1924.

Some of the nation’s earliest success stories in Olympic skiing honed their skills in New England. Andrea Mead Lawrence, who in 1952 became the first American Alpine skier to win multiple gold medals at an Olympics, learned her skills at Pico Mountain in Vermont. Billy Kidd, who along with teammate Jimmie Heuga were the first American men to medal in Alpine skiing at Innsbruck in 1964, got his start in racing as a member of the Mount Mansfield Ski Club based at Stowe, Vermont.


This year, New Englanders need look no further than returning gold medalists Mikaela Shiffrin and Jessie Diggins. Shiffrin, 26, grew up skiing in New Hampshire before attending Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont. Diggins, 30, spends time each year training in Stratton Mountain in Vermont when not at her South Boston home.

The duo is joined by more than 20 ski and snowboard teammates who all either grew up or went to school in New England. It’s a list that also includes a second generation Olympian: 29-year-old Alpine skier Ryan Cochran-Siegle of Vermont, who is competing at his second Winter Games, is the son of 1972 slalom gold medalist Barbara Cochran.

In snowboarding, the US team includes Connecticut natives Lindsey Jacobellis and Julia Marino. Jacobellis, who attended Vermont’s Stratton Mountain School and won an Olympic silver medal at Torino in 2006 in snowboardcross, is set to appear in her fifth Winter Games (tying a record for most by a US woman). Marino, a 2017 X Games gold medalist in slopestyle, won her first major competition at the Fenway Park Big Air event in 2016.

Attempting to explain exactly why New England regularly produces so many Olympic skiers and snowboarders starts with a simple concept.

“Well, I think there’s a strong culture of skiing, especially in northern New England,” said Dartmouth director of skiing and women’s Nordic coach Cami Thompson Graves. “And there are quite a few classic ski towns up here. I think it draws people from southern New England as well.”


Thompson Graves, who has led Dartmouth’s women’s team for more than three decades, coached current US Olympians Rosie Brennan and Julia Kern (cross-country) and biathlon athlete Susan Dunklee, who helped the school win a national championship in 2007.

Accessibility, in Thompson Graves’s view, plays a crucial role in developing younger skiers.

“Having easy access to skiing and training for a lot of kids from a young age is important,” she explained. “There are a number of communities that provide free skiing for the local athletes or local kids. A lot of schools have programs and certainly the college circuit is a reasonably important part of it as well. There are so many strong New England colleges and a lot of us have ski teams that compete regularly.”

“I think, just to me, it’s sort of bred into the culture,” concluded Thompson Graves.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Kyle Darling, the head FIS women’s coach at Burke Mountain Academy.

“I’d say we have a good culture trying to be the best, loving competition, and trying to become not only great ski racers but also great people,” he noted. “That kind of keeps the culture going from generation to generation by producing great people out of these places.”


While New England doesn’t have the nation’s tallest mountains or biggest ski areas, Darling theorized that this might actually be strangely advantageous, particularly given that the traditional powerhouses in skiing are European-based.

“We have a lot of ice in the east and higher humidity, and a lot of European racing is at lower elevation,” said Darling. “So it’s more similar to here in New England. You don’t get that super dry snow. If you’re competing at the higher levels, the snow surfaces are prepared, watered, iced down, and we get that more naturally in New England. That’s a competitive advantage.”

Darling is in his fifth year as a coach at Burke, which along with Shiffrin also counts fellow Olympian Nina O’Brien among its alumni. The concept of a ski academy has grown over the decades. Not surprisingly, many of the most prestigious are located in New England.

Their success is rooted in the cyclical nature of athletes’ careers. Diggins, speaking in a 2018 interview, described her joy at training with younger attendees of the Stratton Mountain School.

“It’s really cool because you have all these high schoolers that are hopping in and doing their intervals behind a bunch of Olympians,” said Diggins. “And they hang on as long as possible and then they drop off and then when we go the other direction they latch on again.”

“I’m trying to pay it forward because there are some amazing junior skiers coming up and they are so promising,” she continued. “I think it’s really important to make sure that we’re accessible for the younger generation of skiers to ask their questions and just get to try a training session with us.”


The resulting bridge between generations creates the kind of continuity that New England’s ski culture has become famous for, and will once again be on display at the 2022 Olympics.

“That’s certainly made a big difference to our program,” Thompson Graves said of the regional tradition. “I know I see it on a regular basis when I have someone who’s fighting for the national team or an Olympic spot who’s training with the same girls who more or less walked onto the team. It brings the level of the whole team up when we realize that, ‘I can train with her, I can ski with her, and maybe I can ski almost as fast as her.’”


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