Hitting the books while hitting the slopes is how two of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club's top prospects will continue their racing careers starting next season.
B.C. Ski Team veteran Charley Field will be a member of the University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves this winter, while Kelly Steeves is headed to Harvard University to join the Crimson women's ski team.
Both skiers are coming off strong 2013-14 campaigns and are hopeful to find more success between the gates while pursuing their respective post-secondary opportunities.
"I'm just excited for a new change and a new start," said Field, who has spent the past three seasons with the provincial team. "Hopefully, this will get me to where I want to be."
Field said that Alaska-Anchorage is a school she's always been interested in attending, and started having serious thoughts about going there after a T-bar ride at Apex with Seawolves alum Sandra MacDonald. The former racer helped Field connect with the Alaska coaching staff.
"He kind of recruited me, I kind of recruited him," said Field. "I've heard they're a great team, there's a great team atmosphere and I think it will be exciting."
The Pemberton resident has national team aspirations after emerging as one of Canada's best female speed skiers. If she achieves them, she wouldn't be the first local skier to find success after skiing at Alaska-Anchorage. Whistler's Dave Duncan spent four seasons as a Seawolf before moving on to becoming a ski cross Olympian and World Cup winner.
An added benefit for Field will be some relief from the financial burden of ski racing, as Alaska-Anchorage covers most of the competition costs and tuition.
"For my family, it was a little bit hard on them the last couple of years, costing us quite a bit of money," she said. "This puts less pressure on them, it puts less pressure on me."
Steeves, meanwhile, said her excitement level keeps growing as she prepares to leave for Massachusetts in August, even if it hasn't fully sunk in for the part-time Whistler resident that she'll be attending one of the world's most prestigious universities.
And by continuing to ski and study, Steeves can keep pursuing two passions at once after graduating from Vancouver's York House School.
"I'm not ready to give up either skiing or school, so it's a pretty good compromise," she said, adding that she's happy to keep her options open beyond ski racing.
"I could hurt myself tomorrow and not be able to ski for the rest of my life, so I want to be able to move forward in all aspects of life."
Harvard is part of the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association, and while it hasn't been a conference powerhouse like Dartmouth or Vermont, the Crimson's small roster means she won't have to fight for a place on the start list like she might with a bigger program.
"I'll be starting, which is good to know," said Steeves, who won the Keurig B.C. Cup overall title before celebrating her 18th birthday this year.
"I won't be winning, but I hope to be reasonably competitive. It will be nice to go to a place where nobody knows who I am and I can just ski. I like being the underdog; it's a good feeling."
Field expects to be racing at most of the Nor-Am Cup technical races next season, plus competing on the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association circuit that Alaska-Anchorage is part of. She's also hopeful to make time for some Nor-Am speed races to build off her momentum from last season. She was fourth in the Canadian Championship downhill, and her four top-10 finishes on the Nor-Am circuit have come in speed or combined races.
"It's a new start for me, and maybe it will spark me to do a bit better than I did this year," said Field, who plans to focus her studies on health sciences. "It'll be exciting to go to new mountains, see new terrain and experience new snow."
Steeves is also hopeful Harvard can help springboard her racing career to the top level, even if it's not through Alpine Canada. As a dual citizen with a U.K. passport, the Whistler resident could change her FIS card and represent Great Britain in the future, and possibly at an Olympic Games. If she switched today, she'd be among the country's top-five women in both downhill and giant slalom.
But the former K2 national super-G champ said she is already grateful for the opportunities ski racing has opened for her — like an invitation to notoriously exclusive Harvard.
"A lot of people have been saying, 'You must be really smart,'" she laughed. "But a lot of the skills I've developed through skiing, I wouldn't be where I am today without them.
"Everyone who applies there has high SAT scores and good grades, but you need that extra bit: What makes you special?" said Steeves. "Everything that skiing gave me helped set me apart."
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