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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Love for the Middlebury Snow Bowl and Feb traditions

Feb Class of 2021.5 graduates celebrate their annual tradition at the Snow Bowl.
Feb Class of 2021.5 graduates celebrate their annual tradition at the Snow Bowl.

When I first saw the Snow Bowl, I knew I wanted to apply to Middlebury. I fell in love with the Middlebury Snow Bowl and the adventures to be had before I had even stepped foot on campus. Five years ago, when I eagerly clicked on my acceptance letter, the snowflakes dancing on my computer screen foretold a future where I would proudly wear a cap and gown at the college’s iconic ski mountain to culminate my college career with my fellow Febs. 

When I learned that Ski Down would not be held at the Snow Bowl this February, I began to fear that Febs have lost our most unique and cherished tradition. As a Feb class, we have endured the turbulence of the pandemic and consistently adjusted our expectations for our time at Middlebury. Through these adjustments we have expanded the descriptors of a Feb and cultivated a more diverse Feb identity. The Ski Down at the Snow Bowl unites us all and might be the only constant for our fabulous Feb class. 

In 1971, the college created the February admission program to fill space vacated by students studying abroad. Described by the admissions website as “one of the oldest, largest, and most established mid-year enrollment programs in the country,” we have evolved from mere space-fillers to a close-knit community within the college, complete with our own vocabulary — terms like “Febmesters,” “Baby Febs” and “Super Seniors” narrate our collegiate journey. 

In recent years, we have also begun to identify ourselves as “original Febs” and “fake Febs.” These terms were born from the Covid-19 pandemic which led many students to take a semester off from academics and join our Feb class. This year, we are making history as the largest Feb class ever with 233 graduates. To those that we’ve adopted, thank you for sticking around; we needed you! Regardless of when you matriculated, we are all Febs and will forever have a .5 attached to our graduation year. 

When the February admission program began, a celebration for the mid-year graduates didn’t exist. It wasn’t until the winter of 1986–87 when four Feb women decided they were not members of either the class of 1986 or 1987 — they were the Class of 1986.5. To commemorate their academic journey and bid farewell to the college, they initiated a ceremonial Ski Down at the Snow Bowl. While not an official graduation, the Ski Down has evolved into a quintessential Middlebury tradition for Febs.

The Ski Down at the Snow Bowl seemed appropriate for students that were departing at the coldest time of the year. The tradition quickly became synonymous with Middlebury College itself, gaining national recognition. As a college-owned ski area, the Snow Bowl both increases student access to skiing and solidifies itself as a unique resource for Middlebury student life. 

For over three decades, Febs have descended the Snow Bowl by skiing, sledding, snowshoeing and even canoeing, making it an unconventional yet cherished graduation experience. This tradition unites us in a shared goal: supporting each other down the slope and ensuring that every Feb is celebrated. While our February celebration is not officially titled a graduation, as we were invited to participate in an official commencement ceremony in May with the Class of 2023 or the Class of 2024, it is designed to be intimate and memorable. Some cherish the moment they receive Gamaliel Painter’s cane, while others hold dear the Ski Down. Regardless, all Febs brave the cold in their caps and gowns together.

This J-Term, several Febs have joined forces to help friends learn how to ski, fervently hoping for a Ski Down at the Snow Bowl. They began learning on the magic carpet and have quickly graduated to riding to the lift. Middlebury provides discounted ski lessons, free transportation and free access to equipment and clothing that many students take advantage of with their additional free time found during J-Term. As Super Seniors, our final weeks in college during J-Term are dedicated to soaking up extra time with friends, crossing off our last bucket list items, and embracing all that Middlebury has to offer — especially skiing at the Snow Bowl. 

In December, we received news that the Ski Down would be moved to Chapel Hill. An invitation for our Feb celebration was sent to our families and my parents discovered that my dreams of skiing at the Snow Bowl for graduation would not come true. I categorized the change alongside the many ways that I’ve adjusted my expectations for my time at Middlebury. We are the last class of students to have matriculated prior to the pandemic. We have adapted to pandemic restrictions, housing shortages, the loss of old traditions and the creation of new ones. 

With many changes to our Feb class, we have transitioned away from the stereotypical Feb identity of quirky outdoor enthusiasts. The evolution of the school, and subsequently the Febs, ensured that every Feb held different talents, interests and aspirations worthy of celebration. We have seen our classmates win championships, dance with Riddim, present theses, publish magazines and engage in all aspects of life at Middlebury. 

Our collective experience as a Feb class is representative of our variable four or more years at Middlebury. The Ski Down at the Snow Bowl unites our community with the collective hope for everyone’s successful descent down the slope. We would come down the slope together in a sea of black caps and gowns, celebrating one of Middlebury’s most unique traditions. The college has suggested moving the Ski Down to Chapel Hill to increase the accessibility and inclusivity of the celebration. Instead, additional investments should be made to enhance the accessibility and inclusivity of the Snow Bowl celebration while preserving the rich history of Febs skiing together.