Divas: What I Learned from Skiing

Jonna Mendes showing off her Olympic form.

A chat with Olympian, National Champion, former US Ski team member, and Sun Valley Ski Academy Director of Recruitment Jonna Mendes.

By Katie Matteson

Two-time Olympian and four-time National Champion, Jonna Mendes knows a thing or two about skiing. Skiing since she was three and a member of the Heavenly Ski Foundation‘s Alpine Team since she was eight-years-old, Jonna worked hard to balance skiing and academics throughout her youth and her career, learning the values of time management, hard work and sacrifice.

Now, as the Recruiting Director for the new Sun Valley Ski Academy  (SVSA), which provides housing, academics and winter sports opportunities in conjunction with the Community School and the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF), she gets to help young athletes achieve their dreams in a balance, supportive atmosphere in a community where skiing is life. Jonna talked with Lift Line about growing up in a ski town and some of the positive things happening in the Sun Valley ski community.

 "Time management. That was singly the most important thing I learned from skiing," she says. "Balancing elite-level skiing, maintaining good grades and traveling, it is hard not to see how important ski racing can be to kids. Beyond that it was about confidence and travel. All have been things that carried straight through to college and into my professional life."

"My parents wanted me out of their hair," Jonna jokes about her introduction to skiing. "Learning to ski, like so many other kids raised in a ski town, is a form of daycare. I first learned to ski when I was three and as soon as I could, at the age of eight, I joined the Development Team of the Heavenly Ski Foundation. Now, my 17-month-old already walks around the house with his skis on. There are so many life skills to be learned on the mountain, so I do really hope he skis competitively."

 "It’s amazing it didn’t happen sooner," she says of the new ski academy. "So many incredible skiers have come out of and through Sun Valley, it’s amazing there wasn’t already a ski academy. Now that the buzz is just beginning, I can only imagine the places the SVSA will go. Sun Valley has the skiing and the community. The SVSEF has the world class athletics and the Community School has the stellar academics."

"The Cross-Country and the Alpine programs here are so strong.," Jonna  syas. "Everything from the training to the competition opportunities, it is amazing."

"The other day I watched the freestyle kids stay in the park for 4 and half hours straight. The coaches had to make them take a break. The freestyle program is becoming a bigger and bigger reason that kids want to come here," she says. "The new facilities that SVCo has created are a big draw for snowboarders and freestyle skiers.

"The biggest benefit of the SVSA is that there are NO COMPROMISES," Jonna proudly states. "If they came to the SVSA, young athletes wouldn’t have to sacrifice one thing to make another work. Instead, it is just about if you will apply yourself academically and in your training, you’ll succeed. There is no rushing through the school week, getting in a car, driving to the mountain, rushing back. It is all at their fingertips. And they have the support that the need to take advantage of everything the SVSA, the SVSEF, the Community School and the town has to offer."

I may have been on the US Ski Team, competed on the World Cup and raced in the Olympics but before that I was just like the SVSEF kids, a rug rat on the mountain giggling and laughing," Jonna recalls. "All of my achievements have been because of people who supported me, the coaches, the scholarships I received, the teachers…It is important to understand what a difference it made in my life and what a difference it can make in the life of all the athletes at the SVSA."

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