Fireworks, Surgery, and the Glory Days: Whitman Students Enjoy Winter Sports over Break

Ridley Eastland-Fruit, Sports Editor

For many Whitman students, winter break is not just Netflix binging, cookie consumption and New Year’s resolution rejection. It is an opportunity to revisit and rekindle a passion for what drives, inspires and refreshes them. For the students featured here and many in the Whitman community, winter sports proved to be the perfect way to reset before another semester in Walla Walla.

Returning to school ended up being more of a break than winter break itself for first year Eliza Van Wetter, who spent 23 days of her vacation skiing at various locations in Colorado and Utah. Hailing from Colorado, skiing is a favorite of Van Wetter’s.

While every day was magnificent for her, a couple moments stand out as highlights. At one point she remembers a hefty 30 inches of snow falling in two days. As one might imagine, that made for great ski conditions. “It was wonderful, beautiful and very fun,” Van Wetter recalled.

It was a well-earned view on New Year’s Eve that proved the most memorable however, “I skinned up the side of Vail and watched an incredibly festive firework show at midnight,” she said.

Van Wetter plays for the women’s soccer team at Whitman and is happy to be able to fulfill her passion for both sports.

“I really love and appreciate skiing because it is an extremely fun way to be outside, surrounded by mountains in the winter,” she said. “I really enjoy snow in all of its forms and skiing is a great way to just play in the snow.”


First year Natalie Pusch was also eager to enjoy the snow while at home in Idaho, but her story took a more unfortunate turn. Pusch invited her friend Emma Hansen, also a first year, to ski with her in Idaho in the final week of break.

The two headed up to McCall, Idaho to teach Hansen to ski. After seeing success on the easier of two bunny hills, Hansen felt confident enough to test fate on the more challenging bunny hill. Fate did not prove to be on Hansen’s side. Halfway down the hill, Hansen gained too much speed and in trying to stop, lost control and crashed. A ski patrol evacuation, X-ray and CAT scan later, Hansen was told she had a tibial plateau injury. A medical translation from Pusch was necessary.

“When she fell the bones hit together which caused a displacement of the tibia in addition to a fracture in the bone,” Pusch said.

This was certainly not the ending the two had hoped for as Hansen had to return to her home near Portland for surgery. Now back at Whitman, she is recovering from her operation in Anderson.

“I had fun. When I was on the bunny hill I was enjoying it, but I wouldn’t say those three hours of skiing were worth this,” Hansen said, gesturing at her leg. “[Pusch] felt so bad afterward, and it wasn’t her fault. I was doing well and did have fun before the accident.”

Pusch, though disheartened by the accident, did not think the trip was a total disaster either. “I really enjoyed teaching Emma to ski prior to the accident. Skiing is one of my favorite things in the entire world, so it’s rewarding to be able to share that with someone else.”

Proudly representing the East Coast, sophomore Lyndsey Smith spent her break on the ice, playing hockey. After first playing the sport when she was eight years old, hockey became an integral part of Smith’s adolescence. She played for her local town’s team before transitioning to a club and, eventually, being encouraged to apply to a private high school to play for their team. In her youth hockey career Smith won a national title three times with her club (the first at age 12) and helped her school team win the league title for the first time in its history.

Returning to the Boston area over winter break meant reliving the glory days by visiting her high school team and practicing with them. Smith’s sister is currently on the team, which encouraged Smith to play as much as three times per week with her old group.

“It was really fun because the current juniors and seniors I had played with when I was still on the team, and playing with my sister is always a delight,” she said.

The highlight for Smith came during the alumni game, when she had the opportunity to play with many of her old teammates.

“It was great because the chemistry was all still there,” she said. According to a very proud Smith, the alumni won in a blowout.