Youth ski program at Marlboro serves as bright point as merger looms
MARLBORO, VT––The smell of marshmallows and chocolate roasting over the fire filled the air as Spencer Knickerbocker gathered all of the kids together for one last lap around the soccer field.
Reluctantly, the kids plopped their feet into the skis and started around the field. The daring ones would take on the hill, speeding down it with grace before eventually returning to the campfire to leave for their homes. Knickerbocker, who sat on the side yelling encouragements to them, couldn’t help but smile.
Marlboro College hired Knickerbocker ’19 in 2019 to start a competitive collegiate ski team at the college, but after the proposed merger with Emerson College was announced, they scrapped the plans for the team.
Instead of letting the money fundraised for the team go to waste, Knickerbocker decided to invest in his community by purchasing nearly 20 pairs of cross-country skis and starting a youth ski program at Marlboro for the children who live in the surrounding areas. The program, The Marlboro Nordic Ski Club, recently became a chapter of the famous Bill Koche Youth Ski League.
Knickerbocker, who competed internationally and once skied for the U.S. National Team, spends hours both day and night grooming the nearly 15 miles of snow-lined trails in the hills of rural Vermont, where the college is located.
“I actually transferred here from University of Vermont, and a big reason was the place and the trails here because there’s very few colleges where you can literally walk out your dorm and be on an extensive trail network,” Knickerbocker said in an interview. “The most fun has been being out with the kids and getting them into it.”
Bronwyn Tate, a professor of creative writing and literature at Marlboro, said she loves the community aspect of the program. The s’mores are definitely a motivating factor to wake up on a Saturday morning for her and her two kids, Vesper and Owen, she said.
“You get to do a lap kind of slow with the neighbors, talk about [life] , see some [of your] colleagues, see the kids, it’s just great,” Tate said.
For Felix Hume, a 10-year-old in the program, it’s not only a fun way to hang out with his friends, but also a great way to practice for the Wendell-Judd Cup, a cross-country ski race that became a tradition at Marlboro since the first race in 1965.
Felix came in third place last year, two spots behind Knickerbocker, who he jokingly said always comes in first. Felix said he loves to ski for competition and to just show off to his friends.
“Just going fast and bragging to my friends about the double diamonds I went on,” Felix said.
This small group of friends and family who share their Tuesday and Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings skiing down the small hill on that soccer field offers a small glimpse of joy on a campus faced with an impossible decision: merge with a larger institution or find a way to stay operational.
Part of the reason Knickerbocker started the program in the first place was to try to leave a legacy at Marlboro.
“I would say that we’re really hopeful that it will continue next year, even if the college isn’t here, [and] that it was set up with the intention that it’s going to outlast our closure,” he said.
As the fire died down and all the kids shuffled their way to the car, Knickerbocker stayed behind, putting the rest of the equipment away. Once he locked everything up, he got into his trail groomer, waved goodbye, and left a flat, pearly white path behind him as he drove off.