SKI - - CONTENTS - By Jon Jay

What do pro skiers do when they re­tire from the sport? The op­tions are grow­ing.

Look­ing over Lit­tle Cot­ton­wood Canyon from the Wasatch Pow­der­bird head­quar­ters, pro­fes­sional skier Pep Fu­jas has to hus­tle home. Af­ter a day of heli-ski­ing with his ski spon­sor K2, the 35-year-old needs to study for a test that will count to­wards his col­lege de­gree in op­er­a­tions man­age­ment.

One of the most in­flu­en­tial freeskiers of his gen­er­a­tion, Fu­jas be­came a pro­fes­sional ath­lete in his late teens and never made it to col­lege in the process. “I was mak­ing pretty good money,” he says. “I fig­ured I could al­ways tran­si­tion from one thing to an­other in the ski in­dus­try.” Now, with two kids at home, he is work­ing on com­plet­ing his un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree at the Univer­sity of Utah. Af­ter­wards, he will go straight into an MBA pro­gram.

“It’s funny to think of school as a dis­trac­tion from ski­ing and not vice versa,” says Fu­jas, rec­og­niz­ing his pri­or­i­ties were quite dif­fer­ent at the be­gin­ning of his ca­reer. But, over time, he re­al­ized he craved greater men­tal en­gage­ment than what pro­fes­sional ski­ing could pro­vide.

“Be­ing a part of the ski in­dus­try, you don’t have a lot of out­lets for crit­i­cal think­ing. I felt like I was lack­ing in the aca­demic depart­ment,” he says. So, a few years ago, with his sec­ond child on the way, Fu­jas com­mit­ted to at­tend­ing univer­sity with the am­bi­tion of land­ing a job that would al­low him to take on real-world prob­lems. He’s part of a small but grow­ing num­ber of pro ath­letes start­ing to look be­yond their ath­letic ca­reers and fo­cus­ing on is­sues apart from those they face on the ski hill.

Julia Ford started rac­ing for the U.S. Ski Team in high school, and, like Fu­jas, put col­lege on the back­burner. Six sea­sons later, how­ever, she knew she needed a unique type of men­tal en­gage­ment, not too dif­fer­ent than the crit­i­cal think­ing Fu­jas craved through­out his ski ca­reer.

“I had been in­jured and was just off the [U.S. Ski Team],” the 28-year-old says. “I could see the end of my ca­reer in sight, but I wanted to keep com­pet­ing un­der the stip­u­la­tion that I could also do some­thing that would be men­tally stim­u­lat­ing, rather than just know­ing how to make a faster turn.”

At the U.S. Na­tional Cham­pi­onship in 2016, Ford bumped into her friend and for­mer U.S. Ski Team mem­ber Cody Mar­shall, who re­cruited her to join a new pro­fes­sional skills ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram he co-founded, called GroundSwell Ath­let­ics. “Ev­ery­thing that he ex­plained to me fit the cri­te­ria for the year that I had com­ing up,” says Ford. “I was like ‘I wanna do that!’”

Years prior, forced into early re­tire­ment from World Cup rac­ing af­ter suf­fer­ing a trau­matic brain in­jury, Mar­shall took a job as a pri­vate ski coach for Bob Ben­nett, the founder of GroundSwell Re­sources. At the same time, Ben­nett was in the process of cre­at­ing an in­vest­ment plat­form for pri­vate com­pa­nies with a holis­tic ap­proach to or­ga­ni­za­tional de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing a cur­ricu­lum for clients to learn his meth­ods. Aware of Mar­shall’s sit­u­a­tion, Ben­nett re­cruited him to go through the cur­ricu­lum as a way to help Mar­shall “grow off the hill.”

Mar­shall and Ben­nett un­der­stand that there are not many op­tions for re­cently re­tired pro skiers, es­pe­cially those who skipped com­plet­ing an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree. The pair cre­ated GroundSwell Ath­let­ics and started of­fer­ing the pro­gram to other ski rac­ers. GroundSwell ath­letes si­mul­ta­ne­ously pur­sue rac­ing while com­plet­ing Ben­nett’s busi­ness-build­ing pro­gram, which com­bines el­e­ments of an ex­ec­u­tive MBA and a fel­low­ship. Upon com­ple­tion, ski rac­ers will have var­i­ous ca­reer op­tions when they are ready to stop com­pet­ing.

Ford says GroundSwell’s pro­gram was crit­i­cal to her suc­cess post-pro­fes­sional rac­ing, and she has uti­lized a num­ber of the lessons in her new po­si­tion as the Di­rec­tor of Alpine Ski­ing at Cardi­gan Moun­tain School. “When you’re re­tir­ing from ski­ing, it’ s re­ally daunt­ing to think about what you’re go­ing to do next,” she says. “With a long ca­reer, you can de­velop a pres­ence in the ski com­mu­nity, but what GroundSwell did for me was make me feel more qual­i­fied for that pres­ence and those op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

As for Fu­jas, he’s con­sid­er­ing work­ing for his out­er­wear spon­sor Patag­o­nia or his fam­ily’s com­pany when his pro-ski­ing ca­reer winds down, two roles he’ll be sig­nif­i­cantly more qual­i­fied for with a col­lege de­gree. Mean­while, Fu­jas seems to be thriv­ing in the col­lege en­vi­ron­ment. “Peo­ple are try­ing to tackle real-world prob­lems,” he says. “It’s a fun en­vi­ron­ment to be in.”

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