Travis Ganong is no stranger to a new challenge. After all, he’s been throwing himself down the world’s most dangerous race courses for the past eight years as an American Downhiller on the World Cup speed circuit. This past season, Ganong collected his second career World Cup win when he took the downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 27. Now, in addition to preparing himself for the upcoming 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, Ganong has taken on a new role with Squaw Valley Academy (SVA) as director of snowsports.
Don’t let the fancy new title fool you; despite aiming to prepare for the World Cup a little differently this summer to manage some lingering knee pain, Ganong has no plans to slow down and step away from competition anytime soon.
“I’m not a full-time employee yet, but it might lead to something in the future when I do retire,” he says from his Lake Tahoe home. “It’s a five-year agreement, so, in the short term, I’m going to take on the role of a mentor for the school – somebody that the kids can look up to and can go skiing with when I’m around and in the summers for dryland training.”
SVA was founded in 1978 and is a fully accredited grade 9-12 college preparatory boarding school in Olympic Valley, California. Although the school did have a ski program in its early days, the program was phased out in the early 1990s and has not been a part of the school until now. In July of 2016, SVA was acquired by the York Education Group and negotiations have been underway since to revive SVA’s ski program.
“It’s really cool that they are relaunching a full on ski academy and rebranding the school to cater to high-level skiers,” Ganong says. “I started talking to them about a year-and-a-half ago just to bring some legitimacy to the program and to sort of guide them a bit in the world of competitive, high-level ski racing. I thought it would be really cool to work with them and make this into something that the local community can rally behind as well as the whole world of ski racing.”
Growing up as a ski racer in the Lake Tahoe area, Ganong’s options were limited when it came to balancing his pursuits as an elite ski racer and his responsibilities as a student. By his own admission, Ganong attended a multitude of different schools in his youth before graduating from high school in 2006 and joining the U.S. Ski Team.
“It could be a cool place for people from all over the world to come to California and ski at one of the best mountains in the world while also getting their education,” says Ganong. “I wish it was around when I was growing up.”
The Chinese-based York Education Group currently owns four schools across the United States that all have a focused athletic program as part of their offerings. Starting with the 2017-18 school year, SVA will offer a competition ski program that allows for flexible academic schedules and full integration with the on-snow programs of the Squaw Valley Ski Team.
According to SVA Head of School Bill Grant, reviving the ski program has been an agenda item for a number of years.
“With the sale of our school this past July, we’ve been able to do that,” Grant says. “This fall will be our first pilot program. It will be small with probably 10 to 15 kids so we are very excited about venturing out into this new realm. What our ownership and I would like to see is this becoming truly an elite ski program.”
SVA’s program will differentiate itself slightly from the more traditional ski academy model by partnering with the Squaw Valley Ski Team instead of offering a separate in-house athletic program. Athletes will attend classes at SVA and then train and race as full members of the Squaw Valley Ski Team with the help of a liaison coach who will assist in coordinating the student’s academic needs with the on-snow programs.
“Having a ski team like the Squaw Valley Ski Team that has produced so many amazing athletes over the years, it’s a recipe you don’t want to change so they’re really smart to integrate into that,” says Ganong.
“One of our senses for schools that are all in-house is that a lot of times they’re going to take one particular stance on what comes first, whether that’s skiing or academics,” adds SVA Assistant Head of School Paul Otis. “We wholeheartedly believe that these are kids that are coming to us because these are both really important realms in their life. We are also realistic in recognizing that you could have a really great skier that has a couple of injuries and instead of looking at the Olympics is instead looking at going to college, so we will retain our specialization as a college preparatory boarding school that is focused solely on preparing kids for college and providing rigorous academics. We then partner with the mountain and they can focus on the athletic performance and how to train the world’s best skiers so both sides can really specialize in their particular area.”
Through Ganong’s partnership, SVA has also announced the Travis Ganong Scholarship, which is to be awarded annually to two athletes who embody Ganong’s passion for education and alpine ski racing. Applications for the 2017-18 academic scholarships are due by June 15, 2017. For full details on the new program and how to apply for scholarships, visit SVA’s website here.