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Student Athlete of the Week: Sophie Spalding

Although the Rocky Mountain slopes are within reach, there are surprisingly few young athletes in the Front Range who ski competitively.

Why? Skiing can't exactly be learned in a backyard or driveway; effort and time are required to fully appreciate the thrill of gliding down Colorado's infamous powder. But for those who've gone the extra mile, the payoff can be fruitful.

Since joining the Boulder Nordic Junior Racing Team in seventh grade, Sophie Spalding has been glued to the slopes and has been rewarded plenty for her dedication. The Niwot High School senior is currently preparing for her third trip to junior nationals and recently committed to the University of Colorado Boulder's nordic ski team.

"It seemed like a super cool sport and I've been doing it all my life with my family," Spalding said. "My dad really wanted me to, and just try it (skiing competitively) out. I ended up loving it and the people in it. My first year, I had a really good experience with the people that were on the team and the coaches and stuck with it."

Spalding said that the majority of her teammates attend either Boulder or Fairview high schools, giving them a slightly shorter drive to the club's practice location at Eldora Mountain Ski Area which is about an hour drive from Niwot depending on traffic and road conditions. Fortunately for Spalding and her parents, the team does have a shuttle van.

This winter, Spalding spent most weekdays training at Eldora in preparation for weekend competition, which has taken her to Colorado resorts such as Aspen, Summit, Steamboat Springs, Vail, Crested Butte and others. Spalding also competed against collegiate and professional skiers at the U.S. nationals in January and placed 11th.

"It was a little bit of a rough start to the week, so finishing the week off strong was definitely a goal of mine," Spalding said. "I was pretty happy with that result. It was awesome to be up in the front of the pack and really push as hard as I could. It was a brutal race."

With CU's ski team and a few other Division I schools also racing at the same event, Spalding believes that her strong finish was key in helping her land an offer.

"It's always good to be racing where they are, so that they can keep an eye on you and see you during the races," Spalding said. "It was awesome to finally have some hard work paying off, especially since that was the beginning of my season. Going into the season with confidence, excitement and motivation was super helpful."

Spalding said that committing to a CU team that she grew up watching was a "true honor."

"I've always looked up to them," Spalding said. "I kind of have to pinch myself because I'm going to be wearing that race suit next year. It still doesn't really feel real to me. When I got that call from the coach and when she told me that she has a spot for me on the team, it didn't even feel real. I had to look at it; I had to take a deep breath and was like, 'Oh my God, is this real life?'"

She gave much of the credit to the Boulder Nordic Junior Racing Team and coach Ursula Volz, a former skier at Harvard, for guiding her development which has now resulted in an opportunity to compete in college.

But first, her next big event comes March 13-16 at the Junior Nationals in Fairbanks, Alaska.

"I'm really excited because it's a completely different place that I've never skied before, and everybody says it's great," Spalding said. "It's also at sea level, so that's a whole different type of racing."

Looking at the bigger picture, Spalding hopes that more young athletes in Longmont and Niwot, in particular, will take the leap and join a competitive ski team.

"I'd love to get more people involved," Spalding said. "I think it's just hard because of the hard work and dedication it takes, but it also makes you such a well-rounded person and really shows you what your hard work can do."


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