Arizona State University spends almost $100 million on sanctioned sport programs every year in order to get the best performance from the most elite athletes in the state. However, one genre seems to be missing from ASU’s lineup: winter sports. Other than the Division I ice hockey team, which needs to travel far off-campus to practice, ASU offers little in the way sanctioned support to winter sports like skiing, snowboarding and ice skating.
This leaves hundreds of avid winter sports athletes compelled to drop ASU from their list of potential colleges right from the get-go. The University, however, can hardly be blamed for this.
Being pitted in a natural inferno for three quarters of the year doesn’t lend itself nicely to sports that require cold temperatures. Despite this, ASU students who love these winter sports have banded together to practice and enjoy the activities that are ever so absent from the school's sports budget.
Many Phoenicians may equate snow to a cold day at Snowbowl, where they first embrace the bunny hill with beat up rental gear, sore butts and wet jeans. Although plenty of desert dwellers do not know that jeans and snow are a recipe for disaster, there remain a population of people who know their way around the mountain.
So how does a community for such a niche sport like skiing manifest itself within the sweat box of Tempe? Thanks to dedicated students willing to go out of their way, athletes from these different sports are still able to practice their passions even though the resources for these sports are scarce.
Snow Devils, a student-run skiing and snowboarding club, has managed to become the school’s second largest club behind Outdoors Club, with over 500 registered members and 200 active before snow even touches the ground in Arizona. Snow Devils has been able to grow over the last four years at a rapid rate, thanks to its all-inclusive methodology of getting members on the hill.
Raegan Barry, biomedical engineering major and president of Snow Devils, said she does her best to make the club an all-inclusive experience for anyone who wants to join.
“We try to make it as open as possible,” Barry said. “You don’t have to know how to snowboard or ski, and you don’t have to be good by any means. We have some people that go who have never seen snow before, it’s really cool to be able to teach them and get the experience.”
The inclusiveness of Snow Devils is truly what makes the passion for skiing and snowboarding bloom in Tempe. It’s not just for experienced skiing veterans, but also for first-timers and everyone in between.
Barry and other officers of Snow Devils spend a lot of time planning out logistics and funding for larger skiing trips out of state, along with offering to pay for gas for anyone who volunteers to drive.
“Our club does offer that if you are a member. We pay for gas and transportation for people to get to and from (the mountain),” Barry said. “Being able to figure out ways to get out of the state to go on bigger trips so we’re not just going to Arizona mountains, we go to California and Colorado, Nevada, different places like that. Being able to facilitate a whole group of people going somewhere is kind of hard, but we make it work”
Bradley Fox, chemical engineering major and vice president of Snow Devils, said he loves finding people passionate about snow as much as he is, despite the geographical hindrance.
“It’s huge, you become a family,” Fox said. “There’s not very much snow in Arizona, so you get everybody together that wants to ski and snowboard — people from Colorado, California. We even have people from Switzerland, you get them together and we become a family.”
But not every Snow Devil is a beginner. Some students, especially those originally from states with colder climates, find themselves having to cut the number of days they can have on hill drastically due to the school’s location. Even in places where it does snow in Arizona, the southern location makes it hard to compete with snow conditions in places like Colorado and Utah.
“It depends on the winter, that’s our biggest difficulty,” Fox said. “Last year, we didn’t get too good of a winter. Everybody was making snow, there wasn’t much natural snow.”
Fox said that even though snow conditions may not be the best, the club is still able to make the most of the season due to its dedicated students who are willing to drive hours each week to do the sport they love.
“We just have people who love the sport,” Fox said. “They’re very dedicated people. Like myself, I’ve driven hours just to go to the mountain on a weekend just because I wanted to go to the mountain.”
Staying involved with this sport takes a lot of time and dedication, especially as a student. Finding the balance between work and play is vital, especially when practice is two and a half hours away.
For the most part, the community of snowboarders and skiers is being held up by Snow Devils as the hub for all things skiing and snowboarding. Unfortunately for other, more competitive winter sports, inclusivity is not a solid basis upon which a club can be formed.
Ashley Osborne, a sophomore majoring in the data analytics and sports business, has been a part of the figure skating community for 13 years.
“I’ve been doing skating for so long, it's just what I like doing,” Osborne said. “With skating, you’re able to express yourself with the artistry (of it)”.
Osborne has been a competitor in the Arizona figure skating community over the last decade, and has seen its community change over that time.
“I think it is growing, but the number of elite skaters, at least at my rank, is decreasing it seems like,” Osborne said. “But, I’ve been seeing a lot more younger kids come up in the ranks and so, in that aspect, it is growing.”
While new skaters are continually hitting the ice, seasoned veterans like Osborne are finding it more and more difficult to stick with training due to the inherent lack of a figure skating scene in Arizona. Osborne feels the strain of balancing a college class schedule with an elite-level figure skating regiment.
“With basketball or any of those sports, you have somewhere on campus that you probably can just walk to or is a short bike ride away,” Osborne said. “But the closest skating rink is 20 to 25 minutes, so it takes more time out of your schedule when you have to go practice.”
The issue for skaters in Arizona does not have to do with the scorching temperatures during the summer, but rather, the lack of a scene in the desert. For example, the coast of California along with schools like UC Berkeley and UCLA offer opportunities for competitive skaters with top of the line teams and programs, all while being in an area just as snowless as Phoenix.
“Going to California, there’s definitely a huge gap between the skaters there and the skaters here,” Osborne said. “There’s just not a huge figure skating population here. I know a lot of the California schools have really big clubs and so do a lot of the east coast schools.”
Although Osborne has made plenty of friends, competed in many competitions and made memories though figure skating to boot, she said can’t help but feel underwhelmed by the opportunities Arizona and ASU provide to skaters.
Lauren Carreras, a sophomore studying biochemistry, has been a figure skater since the age of four. She said choosing ASU was tough because it meant letting her figure skating career go. A problem for any dedicated ice skater coming to ASU is the apparent lack of support for their sport.
“If I’m being honest, I don’t think (ASU) really (does) support figure skating,” Carreras said.
When looking for colleges, Carreras said she was sad to see the absence of figure skating at the University.
“There was this one figure skating club, one of my friends had started it I think a year or two before I came to ASU ... I know they didn’t do anything with it or they did very little,” Carreras said.
With no official collegiate team, ASU figure skaters only have their own efforts to rely on for honing their skills. Unlike the very dedicated snowboarders and skiers at Snow Devils, the representation of Arizona’s figure skating population is almost nowhere to be seen at ASU.
The overall appeal of figure skating in Arizona has never been incredible, with only six indoor ice skating rinks in the entire Phoenix Metropolitan area. Comparing that to swimming pools and basketball courts, it’s obvious why people don’t get the same immediate exposure to figure skating as they might with other sports.
“It helps that states on the east coast have outdoor rinks, which is really nice because more people know about them and more people want to go,” Carreras said.
The problem with the lack of figure skating representation at ASU is linked to the fact that it isn’t as accessible in Phoenix as it is on the east coast or even in California.
Apart from the 110-degree temperatures, the affordability seems to be a main factor detracting from the college winter-sport experience. Each winter sport is less accessible than court sports because they require special equipment, dedication, and arrangements to make practice possible.
“I feel like more people know about it (on the east coast), and if more people know about it then they will look more into it,” Carreras said. “They’ll find that they really like it, and then that’s how they find out about a sport they love. But if people don’t really know about it, then they’re never going to get to that point.”