Story by Maddyn Johnstone-Thomas
For many young kids, weekends are spent hanging out with friends or watching cartoons in their pajamas. However, for a group of over 100 athletes ranging from ages 6-17, Saturday and Sunday are dedicated to the freezing ski and snowboard slopes starting at 6 a.m. and training all day.
The Flagstaff Ski & Snowboard Team has been around with their competitive teams since 1967 and have trained over 1,000 athletes with 20 professional coaches. They are a part of the Southwest region, training and competing at Arizona Snowbowl and other places throughout the Southwest.
Todd Gillenwater, President of the Board of Directors, is the father of twin girls who are involved with the team. His daughters, now 16, started working with the group when they were seven-years-old.
Gillenwater, who was born and raised in Phoenix, said he would’ve loved to have an opportunity to ski growing up but that wasn’t a possibility in the desert heat.
“We moved to Flagstaff when they were six and met some people that had kids that had gone through the team and they just raved about it,” Gillenwater said. “So we put them in it and we thought it might be a little early but it turns out it wasn’t. Their best friends are on the team and our best friends here in Flagstaff are from that ski team. It’s just been a huge part of our lives over the last nine years.”
Both daughters are now competing at an elite level, with one of them qualifying for the Rockies Central’s Junior Championship in Colorado just prior to the shutdown of COVID-19.
Not only is the team producing elite skiers and snowboarders, they reached a milestone in their 53-year history. They received a Podium Certification at the Bronze Level by U.S. Ski and Snowboard. Only 14 percent of clubs across the country have reached this type of accolade.
In order to receive this achievement, the club went through a rigorous self-assessment and were reviewed on their principles and practices in eight areas of organizational performance, such as finances, safety and administration.
“We’re hoping it gives us a better standing with schools and with sponsors,” Gillenwater said. “We rely heavily on fundraising to keep our rates low, to be able to have a broad economic spectrum of athletes and families involved. Having an Olympic caliber governing body take a look at everything we do and say, ‘Yeah you guys are doing it right,’ it’s just a big feather in our cap.”
Davis Boyer has been with the team since he was a little boy and after graduating high school in 2010, he became a coach. His dad was on the team growing up and so were his siblings, who are also coaches now as well. Boyer emphasized how important the certification was and how they will continue to push themselves forward to get to a silver or gold level.
However, there’s something much bigger within this community than just the certifications and medals. It’s about the kids and the impact this will have on their futures.
“Our organization for a long time has always said that it’s all it’s for the kids and that’s why we do it and it’s the truth,” Boyer said. “It’s such a good influence and good impact on their lives. It was such a big deal for my life and kind of shaped me for who I am, and I want to pass that on and make a good positive impression on these athletes, not just as athletes, but as young human beings growing up and in this world. Try and give them a positive space to be themselves and have fun and work on something they’re passionate about.”