People magazine brings us this look at Burke Mountain Academy and it’s Headmaster Warren Witherell.
On the Slopes at Burke Academy, Headmaster Warren Witherell Preps Skiers for the Next World Class
By Toby Kahn
People.com: When a young math teacher interviewed for a job at Burke Mountain Academy a year ago, he came dressed to impress in a silk shirt, Italian tie and imported shoes—and was startled to find the school’s headmaster wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt. The headmaster, Warren Witherell, casually informed the applicant, “We don’t wear ties at Burke.”
The dress code isn’t the only thing at Burke that’s out of the ordinary. The 67-student academy in East Burke, Vt. gives no grades, and teachers and students are on such a first-name basis that, says Witherell, “Half the kids probably can’t spell my last name.” The coed dorms are lightly supervised, and equality is rigorously demanded; there are no class officers. But Burke is no country club. Every student is a ski racer who spends half of most days on the slopes of 3,267-foot Burke Mountain, training to become world class and dreaming of making the U.S. Olympic team.
In the 13 years since Witherell, 49, founded Burke, the nation’s first year-round ski school and probably the most prestigious, the record of his students has been astounding. Diann Roffe, 16 and a junior, won the December leg of the North American championships and has just returned from the World Cup races in Europe. Five Burke students were in the top 10 of the recent Eastern Cup series, and three of 10 Americans in last year’s World Cup Juniors were from Burke. Four Burke alums were on the 1976 Olympic team, 90 have represented the U.S. in international competition, and six have ranked among the top 15 skiers in the world.
Ironically, Witherell’s success as a teacher has made competition tougher for his students. His 1972 book, How the Racers Ski, is a bible on the ski circuit, and his methods are standard in the U.S. Looking back at Burke’s domination of the 1976 Olympic team, Witherell says, “Those numbers will never be duplicated. We were the first game in town then. But now a lot of people have adopted our program.” Still, Holly Flanders, Burke 1976, is on this year’s U.S. Olympic team.