Recently, two athletes from Garfield County helped the University of Sierra Nevada dominate official national competition in collegiate skiing and snowboarding.
The United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association hosted the national championships in Lake Placid, New York, March 7-12.
Elle Murphy, 20, from Glenwood Springs, joined the SNU women’s alpine ski team winning three team gold medals.
“It went really well for us,” Murphy said. “The Alpine team has won all possible titles, men and women.”
Adding to the mix, 18-year-old Coal Ridge High School graduate Shayne Sandblom put up stellar individual performances in both freestyle and alpine skiing events.
The SNU freshman took first place in rail jam and slopestyle, while he was voted the best freestyle snowboarder of the entire competition.
“I was really happy with my performance,” Sandblom said. “And getting the gold with that was the icing on the cake.”
Sandblom also picked up bronze in boardercross and additional top-10 finishes in the slalom and giant slalom events. He would finish the competition with a third overall nomination for Best Alpine Snowboarder.
The competition brought together more than 500 university athletes from across the country.
Like so many budding young skiers and snowboarders in Garfield County, Murphy and Sandblom’s humble beginnings begin at none other than Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort.
“I know this mountain like the back of my hand,” Sandblom said.
Prior to competing against Olympians and collegiate rippers, Sandblom made regular trips from his home in Silt to Aspen and Snowmass.
It was while he was attending Coal Ridge High School.
“Some days I had to skip a class or two,” Sandblom joked.
During his freshman year, Sandblom was so engrossed in snowboarding that he was forced to make a deal with his teachers. The mornings were devoted to academics, while the afternoons were spent in the valley in the mountains.
Sandblom said he even had a class before school started. He also had to miss Advanced Placement Chemistry once a week.
Somehow, Sandblom consistently maintained a 4.1 GPA in his senior year.
“There was definitely a lot of late nights and engagement all around,” he said. “I just had to keep my head down and feed myself through it.”
Sandblom was first introduced to snowboarding through skiing. When he was 2 years old, his father, Scott Sandblom, put him on a pair of skis at Sunlight Mountain.
But as Sandblom was taking the ski lift one day, he saw someone snowboarding.
This pivotal moment in Sandblom’s life propelled him into snowboarding fanaticism.
At age 6, he enrolled in snowboarding lessons. At age 11, he took part in his first official snowboarding competition, at Powderhorn Mountain Resort.
Soon Sandblom was begging his parents to enroll him in the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, the oldest youth club in Roaring Fork Valley.
“My progress has absolutely skyrocketed,” Sandblom said.
Sandblom then graduated from local competitions in Aspen to compete in the FIS World Association for Competitive Snowboard Tour.
Sandblom’s dedication also earned him a scholarship to Sierra Nevada, where he is studying interdisciplinary studies in outdoor leadership and environmental science.
Currently, Sandblom is keeping the door open to eventually becoming a snowboard pro.
Or, he says, he can just pursue a career in something else while just keeping snowboarding as something he loves to do.
“I just want to keep all my doors open,” he said.
A COMPLETE SKIER
Simply put, Murphy is a runner.
The 20-year-old skier who has dual American and Irish nationality has taken a liking to the slopes of Garfield County.
“I learned to ski at Sunlight Mountain through their Buddy Warner program,” she said. “Then I eventually outgrew Sunlight and went to the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club.”
The club’s coaches are particularly good at making sure their students have mastered all the basics of skiing. Those who favor alpine racing learn freestyle, and the reverse for those who favor freestyle.
“Aspen really creates an all-around skier,” Murphy said. “They supported us until the end.”
By the time Murphy was a freshman at Glenwood Springs High School, his allegiance and devotion grew too strong. She would complete the last three years of high school by taking online classes.
But her undivided focus on what she loved most drove her to great effort. She, too, landed a spot on the Sierra Nevada Ski Team, having previously competed all over the world.
“I’ve competed in the European Youth Olympics and three world youth competitions,” she said. “The transition to online teaching has allowed me to do that.”
Murphy said she has the opportunity to compete at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships next year in France, where she will represent Ireland. As well as France, she could also take the opportunity to represent Ireland at the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “Skiing has taken me to so many places.”
Journalist Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or [email protected]