The 2020 NCAA season kicks off Friday, so let’s recap the previous season’s highlights and preview the season ahead, starting with the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) Qualifier in Aspen.

The 2019 RMISA season crowned the University of Utah as NCAA champs in Stowe, Vt., but with so many skiers graduating, how will the West hold up this year?

University of Utah coach JJ Johnson remains confident in his team, despite losing seven athletes from last year, including NCAA champion Mark Engel.

“Last year when I took over we had 10 guys and six girls,” said Johnson. “Five of the guys graduated, so we just added one guy and one girl. The guys’ side is really strong, a lot of good skiers.”

“It’s always the goal (winning NCAAs),” he added. “Our Nordic team is really strong, and we’re trying to bring in a similar culture on the alpine side, putting in athletes that want to go for three or four years and keep developing.” 

In addition to Utah’s crop of fast skiers that have since graduated, the RMISA will also not see Tuva Norby (DU), Kristine Aasberg (DU), Mia Henry (MSU), Nora Christensen (CU), and Katharine Irwin (UNM) — all of whom were regulars at NCAA Championships. On the men’s side, Max Lukko (CU), Tyler Theis (UNM), and Alex Barounos (UNM) have also moved on.

But there’s a new crop of talent headed to the slopes this winter, including former U.S. Ski Team athletes Nellie Talbot (MSU), Cecily Decker (MSU), and Mo Lebel (UU). For incoming men, it is Mikkel Solbakken (Westminster), Riley Seger (MSU), and Gustav Voello (UU). 

“Becoming an NCAA athlete was appealing to me because it looked fun and showed a supportive environment that is producing high level competitors in the sport of ski racing,” said Talbot. “I truly believe that competing on the NCAA circuit was the best option for myself. You can gain an education while still working hard to achieve your athletic goals.”

The biggest — and most disappointing — shakeup will be the absence of University of New Mexico, which discontinued its alpine program, shrinking the number of schools in the RMISA to just seven (compared to the 13 in the EISA). This has not stopped UNM skiers from continuing their careers elsewhere, with eligible ravers moving to Utah, Alaska, and Montana State. 

It is also important to highlight just how competitive the college circuit is. When looking at the university races, there is often significant overlap with the NorAm circuit.

“It’s important to recognize the similarity that the top level of both the college and NorAm circuit are the same,” said Utah’s Addison Dvoracek. “Those at the top of the college level are also winning NorAms. This is one thing that I don’t think has been recognized by the U.S. Ski Team and the rest of the country. If the U.S. team supported the college route even a little, they would end up with a lot more 22-24-year-olds with World Cup speed.” 

Looking at the recent FIS, NorAm and World Cups, fans should be on the lookout for DU’s Storm Klomhaus, Amelia Smart and Andrea Kosmic, who are coming into the season with strong results, as well as CU’s Mikaela Tommy, and Utah’s Roni Remme. For the men, Addison Dvorcek enters his senior year at Utah. He’ll battle it out with NCAA champ Jett Seymour (DU), Liam Wallace (UAA), Simon Fournier (DU), and Tobias Kogler (DU).

A San Francisco Bay Area native and Bates College graduate, Sierra Ryder has ski raced all over the country starting in the West growing up skiing on The Squaw Valley Ski Team, and then back East on the EISA NCAA circuit. Sierra is a proud Bates Bobcat and is grateful to have skied carnivals for four years serving as a captain for the Bates ski team her senior year. She now resides in San Francisco where she works for the CBS San Francisco News affiliate KPIX5. When she is not working you can find her running on Crissy field or skiing at Squaw.