WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- The Whitman College alpine and nordic ski teams will compete in NCAA Division I during the 2002-2003 race season, director of skiing and alpine coach Tom Olson announced today.
Whitman will no longer compete in the U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA), where its teams have enjoyed considerable success during the past decade.
"Our women's team has won eight consecutive USCSA combined titles, while our men's squad has captured seven titles in eight years," Olson said. "Whitman is making the transition to NCAA Division I at the request of its athletes, who want more and better competition."
Whitman will compete in the NCAA's Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) with schools such as the universities of Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, as well as Denver University, the reigning NCAA national champion. The University of Alaska-Anchorage, Montana State University, and Western State College round out the RMISA membership.
"The RMISA schools provide some of the best collegiate ski programs in the U.S.," Olson said. "It is our goal at Whitman to become more competitive and race with these teams on a regular basis. We are confident in saying that we can become one of the top 10 NCAA ski teams in the country."
Whitman replaces Western State College (Gunnison, Colo.) as RMISA's smallest school in terms of student enrollment. Whitman is a liberal arts & sciences college of about 1,350 students, which compares to an enrollment of about 2,500 at Western State. At the other end of the spectrum, undergraduate numbers range as high as 20,000-plus at the state university schools in the conference.
On the national level, Whitman will compete with similar liberal arts institutions such as Middlebury, Williams, Bates and Colby colleges, and St. Lawrence University, all of which are located in the eastern U.S. Like Whitman, these schools compete in NCAA Division III in most sports. With skiing, however, the NCAA offers competition in Division I only.
For now, Whitman will be the only NCAA Division III school in the western U.S. competing at the NCAA Division I level in skiing.
"Skiing at Whitman College offers an opportunity that exists nowhere else on the West Coast," Olson said. "Our student athletes will have the opportunity to compete at the highest level of collegiate skiing while attending one of the nation's best liberal arts colleges."
The Whitman ski teams will continue to do most of their on-snow training at two venues: Bluewood (alpine), located about 50 miles from campus, and Spout Springs (alpine and cross country), which is about 40 miles away. "Both locations offer outstanding terrain for all disciplines and usually are open to skiing early to mid-November," Olson said.
Beginning in October, early on-snow training opportunities are available on weekends to the Whitman ski teams at Oregon's Mt. Hood, about four hours driving time from campus.
Olson, who skied collegiately at New York's Alfred University, is in his 23rd year of coaching, which includes the past 13 years as the head of the skiing program at Whitman.
Ethan Townsend, who competed collegiately at New York's St. Lawrence University, is beginning his second season as the Whitman nordic coach.
Whitman begins its first NCAA Div. I season on Jan. 3-4 with alpine events hosted by Montana State University. The University of Anchorage-Alaska will host nordic as well as alpine events Jan. 11-13 in the Park City, Utah, area.