There’s a crossroad that nearly every ski racer must manage at a certain point of development in his or her career. Should you continue your full-time commitment to the sport or instead choose an educational path and perhaps miss out on at least some elite racing opportunities? On the near horizon, you might not have to choose thanks to GroundSwell Athletics.

The brainchild of Utah businessman Bob Bennett and former U.S. Ski Team athlete Cody Marshall, GroundSwell Athletics aims to offer a specialized business education to elite ski racers while still allowing them to continue with their athletic pursuits. GroundSwell finished its inaugural project in Mammoth, California, on June 2 and looks to expand its athlete roster in the coming months with more projects planned for the summer.

“It really was an introduction to GroundSwell Athletics,” says Marshall. “We wanted to give people an introduction to it and create an experience for them so that they can see what it is.”

The camp was structured much like any other summer ski camp with training in the morning, but athletes were in class for two hours each afternoon gaining real-world business experience via GroundSwell’s unique curriculum.

GroundSwell athletes in an afternoon classroom session.

“Our whole strategy with the business school is scenario- and experience-based learning,” continues Marshall. “We met with a local business owner, Tom Cage, who owns a number of businesses in Mammoth. He came up and talked to us and we spent a couple of days helping develop a new product for a ski shop.”

Learning by doing is a cornerstone of the GroundSwell experience, as real interactions with actual business owners are valued more than the traditional textbook and exam model found at many mainstream business schools. According to Cage, this experience was a welcome change from the daily goings on of an owner of four businesses in the town he has called home for 40 years.

“I got connected with them through Stacey Cook here in Mammoth,” Cage explains. “I really didn’t know what to expect. I met with them thinking it would be a Q&A on business in a small town … One thing led to another and I was completely enthralled by their organization and how they were educating the students that they have. It was great fun. I threw out a business idea that I have been toying with for a couple of years and they just took off with it and created a business plan and approach and strategy, where it could grow and how it could be. Just the whole thing, really.”

“We want to create a situation where you can do both – really work on career development and education and continue to ski race at a high level.”
– Cody Marshall

The school is aimed toward the post-graduate athlete as a way of acquiring core business skills that can be applied in a number of fields, and Marshall hopes to provide an alternate route for these athletes from the more traditional models of education.

“It’s important to me because I spent a lot of time as a post-graduate skier,” says Marshall. “I think in the U.S. it starts to become very difficult for PGs to continue to ski race because all of these cultural pressures and expectations, whether they’re from your family or friends or even yourself where you want to follow that traditional pathway to go to college, get a degree, and get a job. That’s all fine and great, but in the U.S. we are not set up to do that while continuing to ski race. We want to create a situation where you can do both – really work on career development and education and continue to ski race at a high level.”

Although GroundSwell is a full-time ski team (coached by Marshall) in addition to the school, athletes are welcome to complete the curriculum remotely via the internet while skiing for the program of their choice. GroundSwell will work with satellite athletes by setting them up with business owners in their area in order to create an experience that runs parallel to the one offered to members of the ski team.

TJ Pope was an athlete at the Mammoth camp and hopes to take what he learned from the experience and apply it to his traditional studies when he returns to Babson College for his junior year in the fall.

“I am a little bit different than Cody and Bob’s target customer for the GroundSwell Athletics program, but in light of my education at Babson, I think that this supplements it very well,” says Pope. “Going to a formal business school kind of tailors you to a specific job, and I think GroundSwell offers a really great platform of education and resources where you can learn all of the content that you need to learn to build and manage your own business.”

McJames in action at last season’s Jasna World Cup. GEPA

Independent U.S. World Cup racer Megan McJames was also an athlete at the Mammoth camp. McJames has taken advantage of the tuition offerings at Westminster College in Utah by way of her days on the national team, but will supplement that with the GroundSwell program this winter while chasing World Cup starts around the globe.

“They call it ‘class,’ but it wasn’t really class,” she says. “We were working on a business plan with Tom and were learning all of this stuff by working with him. I thought it was super interesting and super applicable to what I’m doing with skiing and then hopefully a job down the road because ski racing is going to end for me at some point so it’s good to have some of these skills.”

Overall NorAm title winner McJames and Marshall have been dating for several years, but that’s not the only reason she’s enrolled in the program.

“The nice thing about GroundSwell is that they have everything you would need to know to invest in a company laid out in a very simple framework,” continues McJames. “I’ve come across some of the concepts in my studies at Westminster, but it’s awesome to have it all in one place. It goes so fast because you are learning it by doing it instead of cramming for a test.”

“It’s very tough to secure your financial future while you’re still ski racing, even if you’re really successful at it, with the exception of someone like Ted Ligety or Mikaela Shiffrin.”
– Cody Marshall

Marshall and Bennett also saw how athletes who had chosen to forgo a traditional college education in favor of a national team career often struggled financially, so they wanted to offer athletes an opportunity to obtain essential skills for the professional world once they chose to retire.

“When I started, I thought I really had to help post-graduate skiers and people out of high school that want to make the national team or ski Division I NCAA, which is starting to get really competitive as well,” Marshall explains. “But then I figured out that it really applies to ski racers in all of these different areas. There’s the post-graduate skier and then there’s people like Megan who was on the national team for many years but is not currently and isn’t making any money, but is still scoring World Cup points. It’s very tough to secure your financial future while you’re still ski racing, even if you’re really successful at it, with the exception of someone like Ted Ligety or Mikaela Shiffrin. It’s really tough, and we want to give those people an option too.”

After completion of the curriculum of approximately 1,000 hours of work, Bennett and Marshall hope to set up employment opportunities for their graduates to obtain well-paying jobs. Although GroundSwell currently holds no official accreditation, students receive a certificate of completion as well as a broad range of skills that are widely applicable in many different realms of the business world.

The program costs $12,500 for the school only, which includes options for flexible payment plans and offers refunds for those who decide the program isn’t the right fit.

“It makes it so we are really aligned with your strategy,” Marshall says. “We really want to make sure that we’re helping you and helping that career development. It’s not one of those things where you’re just going to give us money and we’re going to say, ‘Here, this is it! Good luck!’ We’re really going to try and deliver on this.”

If you are interested in learning more about GroundSwell Athletics or are interested in attending the next project in Mt. Hood Aug. 8-17, contact Cody Marshall at [email protected].