March 4, 2016
It may come as a surprise that Texas Tech University, surrounded by miles of West Texas farmland and plains, is home to not only a student-founded recreational ski and snowboard club, but a competitive ski and snowboard team as well.
The ski and snowboard club at Texas Tech was founded in 2011 by student Patrick Gres while on a ski trip with friends. The group, which is recreational, collects dues to help members make trips to various ski resorts in New Mexico and Colorado. While the biggest trips take place during spring break and winter intersession, the club enjoys making weekend trips as well.
Gres, the founder and current vice president of the club, said the spontaneity of the group’s first trip laid the groundwork for what the club would later become.
“My friend Michael [Sax, current treasurer of the ski and snowboard club] contacted me about going on a weekend trip just 24 hours before we had to leave,” Gres said. “This helped spawn the feeling of spontaneity that is still alive and well in the organization with our weekend trips.”
The club’s first official trip was to Wolf Creek, Colorado, which included 13 Texas Tech students who would later become the first officers of the ski and snowboard club.
As one of the fastest-growing student organizations on campus, Texas Tech Ski and Snowboard has more than 100 members and participates in a variety of social events such as cookouts, football game-watching parties and hiking/biking trips as well as philanthropic activities around Lubbock.
“We’re not just about the ski trips and competitions,” Gres said. “When it’s not snowing, we still like to get out there and explore some of the most beautiful locations in the West.”
The club likes to participate in warm-weather activities such as mountain biking in Palo Duro Canyon and hiking to Trinchera Peak in southern Colorado.
“If you’re a traveler, explorer, adventurer or just want to get out of Lubbock, we’ll have something for you here,” Gres said.
Austin Nettleton, president of the ski and snowboard club, said it is a great way to meet people with shared interests as well as a good excuse to go on some fun trips. However, though he enjoys the vacations and the new friends, Nettleton always craved something more competitive.
“I’ve always been a big fan of competitive ski and snowboarding on things like the X-Games and the Olympics,” Nettleton said. “I wanted to try it.”
He began by researching a few races in New Mexico, which he traveled to and competed in independently.
“I went by myself and got my butt kicked,” Nettleton said, “but I fell in love.”
After his passion was ignited, Nettleton set his sights on creating a competitive ski and snowboard team at Texas Tech in addition to the recreational club.
“I wanted to get the team started, but it was hard to get interest. For a while we had only one or two guys,” Nettleton said.
After competing individually for a few years, Nettleton decided in 2015 to fully commit to creating the team.
“I just decided to go all in,” he said. “I told Patrick [Gres; now vice president of the club] ‘I really want to do this. I’m going all in,’ and he said he was in, too.”
Gres, having grown up with a passion for skiing, didn’t hesitate when offered the chance to ski competitively.
“I’ve always thought skiing was the closest thing to flying I could feel,” Gres said. “So naturally, when Austin told me there was a sport where I could push the boundaries on skis, I was all in.”
After several recruiting efforts, Gres and Nettleton assembled a group of five students to form the first ever Texas Tech Ski and Snowboard Competition Team. The team, which has grown to 11 members, travels to competitions all over the Southwest to participate in events from slope style to boarder and ski cross.
“Last year we did three competitions to start out, and we did pretty well,” Nettleton said. “We went to the USASA nationals.”
After the success of their first year, the team registered to participate in nine competitions in its second year.
“Nearly everything we do is in New Mexico and Colorado,” Nettleton said. “We actually just got back from Angel Fire. The only thing that’s really far is the collegiate nationals in New York.”
The ski and snowboard team qualified for the collegiate nationals and will travel to Lake Placid, New York, March 6-12.
Along with its success, the team also recently signed with Red River Ski Area in New Mexico to make it its “home mountain,” used as the team’s practice location.
“We realized if we want to compete, we need a place to go and practice on snow,” Nettleton said. “We shopped around New Mexico for a while, and Red River got back to us quickly and offered to be our home mountain.”
The team’s agreement with Red River means lift ticket discounts for team members as well as help from Red River staff in setting up practice equipment on reserved ski runs and slope-style training areas. Nettleton said the team is looking to make three to four trips to Red River this season for practice, which will help complement its Lubbock-based workout regime that focuses on exercising muscles used during competitions.
Gres said the biggest message the ski and snowboard organizations want to get across to students is that contrary to popular belief, there are more fun things to do as a Texas Tech student than just what Lubbock has to offer.
“We’re less than a day’s drive away from some of the most gorgeous scenery in the West with endless activities to offer,” Gres said. “The only thing limiting what you can do around here is your willingness to explore.”
Having fun on ski trips is the easy part – according to Nettleton, the biggest step in getting the team started at Texas Tech was finding interest.
“People tell me all the time they didn’t know anything like this existed in Texas, much less at Texas Tech,” he said. “Just seeing that people from Texas can compete in winter sports is encouraging to a lot of people, and it’s something anyone can do if they put their mind to it.”