For all skiers with dreams of competing in college, there are two universities with elite Nordic programs, the University of Denver and the University of Colorado, Boulder. Both are home to ski teams which consistently rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation. CU-Boulder was the close runner-up in the NCAA championship last season. The University of Denver won the national title and Colorado took home second place in 2016. The roles were reversed in 2015 with CU-Boulder finishing as the NCAA Champion and the University of Denver as the runner-up. These universities have a record for winning the NCAA Championship as far back as 1954. The tradition of excellence displayed year after year at the University of Denver and CU-Boulder may be, in part, due to both Nordic programs’ close proximity to the hilly Rocky Mountain terrain. But, it may also be due to two immeasurably skilled coaching staffs.
University of Denver Coach Dave Stewart
Head Nordic Coach, Dave Stewart, has coached 10 years at the University of Denver. He’s led the Pioneers to five of the school’s 23 national championships. In addition to the team’s national titles, Stewart coached five individuals to national championships, skied 41 individuals to All-American performances, and four of his skiers won the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) MVP award. Coach Stewart was named United States Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Association’s co-Nordic National Coach of the Year in 2016, and in 2008, 2009, 2014, and 2016 he was RMISA Coach of the Year.
“The combination of a real vibrant city and proximity to the Rocky Mountains is pretty unique,” Stewart said.
Stewart attributed the university’s Nordic program success to its location, Colorado’s long winter, and the Rockies acting as a major attraction to athletes from around the state and the world. He also described their training program as unique because, unlike universities and programs in other states, Pioneers’ must travel off campus in order to ski on snow-covered trails.
“One of the things we really like here is that we really have good dry land training throughout the year,” Stewart said.
This program takes advantage of the active outdoor climate Colorado is known for. From running, to mountain biking, to road biking, and more, the University of Denver’s dry land training challenges its ski team in the offseason in order to prepare them to bring home a championship in the winter.
CU-Boulder Coach Bruce Cranmer
Bruce Cranmer is the head coach of CU-Boulder’s Nordic program. He has dedicated 18 seasons to the Buffs, and in four of those years he led them to a national championship, most recently in 2015. The Buffs have also been NCAA runner-ups seven times under his leadership. He has coached 12 individual skiers to 18 NCAA Championships. A Colorado Native, Coach Cranmer is somewhat of a ski legend in this state. Before embarking on a successful coaching career, he competed for the U.S. Ski Team from 1980 to 1988. Cranmer was also a member of the 1985 World Championship Team.
2017 NCAA National Championship
Leading up to the 2017 NCAA National Championship, both schools had a promising outlook as many of the Nordic skiers secured top 10 seed rankings. The men’s 20k was a close race. Men’s top finishers for the 20K were CU-Boulder’s Mads Ed Stroem in second place, finishing in 46:03.3, just 0.5 seconds behind first place. Mortiz Madlener of the University of Denver secured third place, with 46:03.4, and Petter Reistad represented the Buffs in fourth place with a time of 46:04.
In the Women’s 15k, CU-Boulder’s Petra Hyncicova won first place after 39:21.6 minutes of competition. Christina Rolandsen, of CU-Boulder, took third place with a time of 40:00.5, and the Pioneers’ Sylvia Nordskar came in at 40:52.2 to secure 11th place. CU-Boulder finished in second place overall and the University of Denver finished third.
It is likely Nordic skiers seriously considering competing in the NCAA already have these two universities on their radar. Colorado has other universities with competitive Nordic programs worth mentioning as well like Colorado Mesa University and United States Air Force Academy. Both are members of the United States Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Association. Colorado schools are a perfect destination for young athletes to learn from the best and continue to strive toward dreams of becoming a champion.