Western Skimo athlete Brianna Rickert aims for Olympic gold

“I’m ready to put in everything I have and see how far I can get!”

By Seth Mensing, University Media & Communications Manager, WCU  

Like a lot of kids who grew up in the Gunnison Valley, Brianna Rickert (M.A. Education, ‘25) was on skis as soon as she could walk. But before long, she was leaving the other kids behind and skiing to the tops of podiums at Nordic races around the state. Now, in addition to being a senior in Western Colorado University’s accelerated Elementary Education degree program, she’s a world-class Mountain Sports athlete dreaming of Olympic gold.

To get there, she made her way up through the ranks of the Nordic circuit, starting when she was eight years old and continuing through high school and into college. But she wasn’t even out of elementary school when her father first took her to the town hill, fashioned a suitable uphill setup from a pair of ski blades with telemark bindings, and carried her downhill skis to the top of the hill while his daughter skinned along behind. That was the start of a lifelong love affair with Skimo.

Between Nordic competitions, her father would take her into the mountains for tours and race training until one day, after transferring to Western as a second-year student, the call of the mountains became too much to ignore. After years of Nordic ski competitions, she was ready for a change.

“I had some great friends on the Skimo team, so it was an easy transition,” Rickert said. “The decision to switch from Nordic to Skimo was the hardest, but once I finished my first race that year, I knew I had made the right decision, and this was going to be something I was going to be able to get serious about and see how far I could go.”

Just four years after her first collegiate Skimo competition, Rickert has already made a name for herself. After reaching the podium in six races last year and getting an endorsement from the U.S. Ski Team’s coaches and the Olympic committee, she was chosen to be one of six athletes to compete in Val Martello, Italy, for the Ski Mountaineering World Cup in 2024. 

But even a talented athlete can’t do it alone. With the support of her team and a coach whose training and techniques she responds well to, Rickert pushes her body and mind beyond her comfort zone and leaves with a sense of accomplishment after every practice and race. Even in such extreme conditions, she admits that skiing is still a lot of fun.

“She’s not just a speed demon in the hills. She’s one of the core members of our team,” Western’s Skimo coach Jacob Dewey said. “With a blend of phenomenal skill and an unwavering down-to-earth demeanor, she radiates positivity and brings an infectious energy that uplifts us all.” 

Unfortunately, after overcoming a number of injuries and medical setbacks over the last five years, her World Cup dreams were put on hold when the U.S. Olympic Committee made the decision to forgo this year’s trip to Italy for financial reasons. But that hasn’t slowed Rickert down. She’s still looking to the mountains and finding inspiration to keep going. 

With Skimo appearing in the Olympic Games for the first time in 2026, Rickert recognizes that the format of those races, sprints, won’t align with her strengths as an athlete, but she’s still going to try.

“As far as the ‘26 Olympics, I am planning on getting as much sprinting practice and racing as possible,” she said. “I am already looking ahead to the ‘30 and ‘34 Olympic years and starting to think about the best plan to make the Olympic team those years a little bit more possible. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m ready to put in everything I have and see how far I can get!”  

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