Skiway Offers Socially Distant Opportunities for Winter
Dartmouth is one of only two colleges in the United States that operates its own ski mountain.
Each day’s early sunset is a reminder that winter is coming. The intensity of the cold and the scarcity of the daylight hours strengthen the appeal of the indoors. But as COVID-19 cases rise and many students plan to return to campus in the winter, the announcement of the Dartmouth Skiway’s reopening was a bright point in a dreary-looking flurry of information.
The Skiway, which will reopen with limited capacity on Dec. 19, offers many recreational and social opportunities for students. Some seasoned skiers choose to work on the Skiway as ski instructors or members of the Ski Patrol, a subdivision of the Dartmouth Outing Club dedicated to keeping the Skiway and its winter sport participants safe. Members of the Ski Patrol work with ski area staff to maintain trails, mark obstacles and provide first aid to the Skiway’s patrons. The Patrol is made up of undergraduate students, most of whom are unpaid volunteers. All are certified as Outdoor Emergency Care technicians, a standard based on the EMT-Basic curriculum.
Izzy Kocher ’22, a member of the Ski Patrol, grew up skiing and racing at the Dartmouth Skiway. She said she feels ski patrolling is a way for her to give back to the mountain and members of the Upper Valley.
“You get to be [at] an intersection between the Hanover community, the outside community and Dartmouth students,” Kocher said.
Kocher said her involvement in Ski Patrol and the Skiway has provided her with a community of people that share similar interests.
“It’s a really great community,” Kocher said. “I’ve made some of my best friends at Dartmouth on Ski Patrol. You can be yourself with people who love to be outside, love to ski and are super enthusiastic.”
Alex Wells ’22 has been a ski instructor since his freshman year, although an injury pushed his first Dartmouth ski season to his sophomore year. He had such a positive experience last year that he considered moving to the Upper Valley from his home in Virginia to be a ski instructor this term. However, he decided not to come after realizing that he would face strict restrictions on campus facilities as an off-campus student.
Wells said that one of his favorite parts of being a ski instructor was seeing his skiers improve over the course of the term. He added that instructing gave him a chance to open up the opportunity to ski to people who had not experienced it before.
“Skiing is historically a very privileged sport and space in general, Wells said. “As an instructor I get a chance to work with people who aren’t from the Northeast or who just have not gotten a chance to go skiing before.”
Ryan McClure ’23 has spent his fall term at home in Minnesota, taking remote classes with a photo of the Dartmouth Skiway as his Zoom background. McClure, who grew up skiing and ski racing, said he likes that instructing allows him to share his love for the sport with others.
“Skiing’s a passion of mine, and sharing the passion with people who maybe just happened to not ski growing up or lived somewhere where skiing wasn’t really a thing has been really great,” McClure said.
McClure is hoping to return to campus and to the Skiway this winter. Although he knows that the season will look different due to COVID-19, he believes that the season will be successful because skiing tends to comply with social distancing guidelines, noting that skiing is an outdoor activity that typically involves wearing masks anyways.
He added that he believes skiing and other outdoor activities might be key to keeping students safe this winter.
“If you restrict skiing and tell people they can’t do it, then people are going to spend more time inside, which is inherently more dangerous activity for the virus,” he said. “Dartmouth students are going to socialize; the question is whether they’re going to do it in an allowed, safe way or if they’re going to break the rules and do it in a more dangerous way instead. Getting outside is going to be vital next term.”
Kocher, who’s been taking classes from home this fall, said she thinks that access to the Skiway will be beneficial to students’ mental health.
“I am looking forward to being around my peers and being around friends and being able to ski — being able to be outside in the winter,” she said, “especially in New Hampshire where the days are super short and dark and Seasonal Affective Disorder is definitely prevalent amongst Dartmouth students.”
Colin Fennelly ’21 feels similarly passionate about the skiway and is the training officer for Ski Patrol. His job usually involves training new Ski Patrollers, but that’s on hold for now.
Fennelly said that only about half of the Ski Patrol will be on campus this winter, creating logistical challenges that the group will have to work with in order to cover the mountain.
“A lot of our members have booked it out west for the winter,” he said. “They have switched to online classes or no classes at all and have gone out west, are going to live out there and maybe do a job and do classes online and ski a little bit or ski a lot. The main thought is: There's better skiing out there than there is here.”
Kate Brundage ’22 is one of those members. She is choosing to take an off term this winter and will be using her Professional Ski Instructors of America certification to instruct in Vail, Colorado.
“In a way it’s a silver lining because I’ve wanted to live and ski instruct somewhere out west for my whole life, and I’m not sure it would have happened without all of this happening,” Brundage said.
However or wherever students choose to participate in outdoor sports this winter, it’s clear that access to outdoor activities for social and recreational purposes is important for weathering COVID-19 during the colder months.
Fennelly hopes that Dartmouth will continue its tradition of offering a host of fun winter activities.
“I really hope that we’ll be able to participate in winter sports in whatever capacity, whether it’s skating around Occom, snowshoeing around the golf course or skiing on the Skiway. [These] are things that the College allows students to do and encourages students to do,” Fennelly said. “I hope that the College jumps on that and uses Dartmouth's long tradition of being involved in winter sports as an opportunity to give students who are here this winter something to do outside.”