Featured in the Squamish Chief:
With seemingly endless places for outdoor adventures, it’s no wonder Squamish is a magnet for athletes.
But for many young athletes, pursuing their careers often means forgoing a post-secondary education.
Quest University Canada has set out to solve this problem with the Leaders in Elite Athletics and Performance (LEAP) program. The school also uses a block plan that makes shifting coursework easier for those who may need to take a few weeks or months away from school, without having to miss the whole year of studies.
“Some of them come out with a medal around their neck, and they come out with a diploma in their hand,” says Jean-Francois Plouffe, the athletic director and recreation manager at Quest.
Because of the Block Plan, athletes and performers who attend Quest can take months off to train or compete without missing a lot of classes.
“For example, a snow sports athlete may take courses in the fall, spring and summer months, leaving the winter open to train and compete,” read’s the school’s online LEAP program outline.
Former Quest students Rosalind Groenewoud and Darren Gardner were chosen to represent Team Canada at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February 2018. Current students have impressive athletic credentials as well.
HALEY BATTEN, CROSS COUNTRY MOUNTAIN BIKE RACER
Haley Batten came to Quest in 2017 from Park City, Utah. The five-time U.S. national champion has represented the U.S. in the last three world mountain bike championships. This summer she competed with the Cliff Pro Team in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. By September, she had competed in Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, Andorra, West Virginia, Quebec, Italy and France. And that is just since May.
Spending time on two wheels is something Batten has been doing since she was young.
“My family was just really involved. They just moved (by) cycling. That’s how we travelled,” she says.
“It was kind of a way for us to go to an area and explore, being active and outdoors.”
After years of riding bikes as a child, Batten slowly fell in love with mountain biking and started competing at nine. Being outside and tracking through the mountains is freeing, she says.
“It’s like a freedom, I think, just being able to go out into the mountain and explore … be out in nature, and also having these challenges that you can overcome and learn so much about yourself,” she says.
Mountain biking is not only a sport, but a way of life in Squamish, and for good reason. Batten says the trails are some of the best she’s ever ridden.
And there are plenty of places to train in Squamish. She said even the wet weather is helpful, giving her ample time to practice in the same muddy conditions she can find herself in during competition.
As for LEAP, she says she appreciates being able to focus on one class at a time with the Quest’s block program.
MASON PITCHEL, ROCK CLIMBER
Mason Pitchel came from Boston, Mass. to study at Quest in 2015. He has been a climber for as long as he can remember.
When he was eight years old, he found an outlet for his love of climbing when he visited a climbing gym.
“Before that, I had been the kid who climbed everything that wasn’t necessarily meant for climbing,” he says. “I’d always be up in a tree during recess periods at school, I would be up in the jungle gyms, but in a way that made the teachers uncomfortable.”
When he was nine, he started competitive rock climbing with a team at his gym. He competed in the USA Climbing youth competitions at the national level, taking the top spot at the 2014 and 2015 SCS regional championships for juniors and youth A, respectively.
But lately, he says he’s taken a step back from indoor competitive climbing, preferring to climb outdoors instead.
“Outdoor climbing just feels more natural to me. Being outside, it can take you to some amazing places and cultures, and you feel a lot more connected with the movement,” he says. “It provides a much greater challenge… because you’re following the natural features rather than in a climbing gym with plastic holds that are very obvious.
As for LEAP, Pitchel said he welcomes the flexibility of the program’s scheduling. He’s focusing his studies on geology, which comes out of his interest in rock climbing. Pitchel has also recently started a competitive rock climbing team at Quest.
MARTIN LENTZ, BIG MOUNTAIN FREERIDE SKIER
Martin Lentz, who is in his fifth and final year at Quest, has won multiple events on the IFSA Junior Freeride Tour and crowned the North American Junior Champion in 2014. In 2015, he won the Wrangle The Chute Open and earned multiple podiums. That landed him a second place overall in the North American Freeride World Qualifier standings and got him a place on the 2016 Freeride World Tour.
You could say Lentz was born wearing skis: he’s been skiing since he was 18 months old. Growing up in a skiing town of Park City, Utah, skiing was just something everyone did, he says.
He started racing competitively at six and competed nationally until he was 14 when he found himself getting burnt out of competitive skiing. But when he discovered big mountain freeriding, everything changed.
“It feels like the freest thing I know how to do. I’m able to go where I want, express myself how I want: basically just interact with the environment physically,” he says.
Big mountain freeride skiing is competitive skiing on natural terrain. Competitors are judged on style and technique, including jumps and tricks.
While he likes competing, Lentz says he’s recently taken a step back to spend time working with sponsors and doing photo and video shoots.
Lentz is studying hydrology and geology at Quest.