Bend has never been much of a college town, but it is a place where college students — especially college athletes — want to spend summer vacation.

“Bend has been a go-to place for people to summer train for forever: When I was an athlete, I moved here in the early ’90s because the summer training was so good,” said Ben Husaby, a former nordic skier who competed at the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics and is the longtime executive director of Bend Endurance Academy. “I think late-season snow helps. This year, there was good skiing even into June. The roads used to be not very crowded, so it was good for roller skiing. There’s great mountain biking, I think that’s a big draw now. The dry climate has a lot to do with it. It used to be very affordable, although that’s changed a little bit. It’s just a good place to train.”

After BEA opened in 2009, many local skiers would return home during college breaks and lift weights and train with the younger kids at their former club. Meanwhile, groups of college skiers from across the country trickled into Bend each summer and tried to stay on task without the aid of a coach.

“They weren’t always that organized, and they mostly weren’t part of programs,” Husaby said of the visiting college students. “So we just decided that we would market that, and we would go after that group. We’d see these kids come out, and they’d train kind of well for a while, but it was really hard for them to be consistent. People do better when there’s a van waiting for them at the top and the bottom of a hill, and there’s water and instruction.”

Since reaching out to visiting college skiers, BEA’s summer training group has grown to be one of the largest in the country. This summer, the group includes 30 NCAA athletes from colleges on both coasts, as well as 22 local middle school and high school students who have signed up to train alongside the collegians.

Zoe Snow, a rising senior at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, said she decided to train in Bend at the recommendation of her teammate Emily Hyde, a 2015 Summit High School grad who trained with Bend-based Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation.

“(Hyde) really enjoyed the program out here,” Snow said after an afternoon weight training session at the BEA facility last week. “We decided to get a group of girls out here to train.”

“I just followed her,” added Cate Brams, a rising senior at Middlebury College in Vermont who has skied with Snow since the two were fifth-graders living in the Boston area. “She’s like, this is our last summer training, so I’m going out to Bend. You should come.”

The training group meets eight times a week: Most weekdays start with a morning workout on roller skis, and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons are spent in the weight room at BEA’s new headquarters on Third Street.

“The idea is that we do all of the hard work, we do all of the focused training here,” BEA nordic director Bernie Nelson said during a strength and conditioning session where the athletes powered through sets of modified pushups, lunges and weighted situps. “But they get to play, too. You know, five-hour hikes, that’s good training for them. I leave their weekends open, and I also leave a couple afternoons open so they can go and enjoy the trails and take part in the Bend life that we all take for granted.”

Several of the visiting skiers said their favorite part of the summer is the weekend. They are still supposed to do something athletic, but they are allowed to choose the activity and where they would like to explore.

“I do a lot of backcountry skiing, so I got to South Sister on my birthday in June, which was pretty sweet,” said Bill Harmeyer, who is preparing for his sophomore season at the University of Vermont. “There was so much snow.”

Harmeyer’s friend Forrest Hamilton, a rising sophomore at Bates College in Maine, said he enjoys rock climbing and makes a point to climb at Smith Rock on a regular basis.

Brams and Hamilton said they are aware of other programs that bring in collegiate skiers for summer training, including Sun Valley Ski & Snowboard Teams in ­Idaho and Loppet Nordic Racing in Minneapolis, but few that draw more than a dozen NCAA skiers.

“For the college kids, really the idea is that we get them stronger, fitter, and teach them a little bit about the balance between sport and life,” Nelson explained. “They move out here, they all, for the most part, integrate into the local community.”

Most get jobs in town during their stay.

“We have lots of dishwashers, lots of servers,” Nelson observed.

Harmeyer and Hamilton both said they work late hours at restaurants in Bend, which can make early training sessions a challenge. Snow said she works at several local nonprofits that serve families and children, while Brams works at Saving Grace, a women’s shelter and support group, while finishing up her summer coursework. Due to NCAA rules, most students receive no funding from their college programs to help them cover the cost of training with BEA. Some skiers work odd jobs around BEA headquarters and live with host families to cut down on expenses, but most live in rentals with a few friends.

“The best part is living with a bunch of my friends, and I think the hardest part is also living with a bunch of my friends,” Brams joked. “But it’s been really special. I’ll stop skiing after this year, so it’s special to get that kind of vibe for my last year doing this.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0305, vjacobsen@bendbulletin.com

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