Ian Clark: Pilot and Ski Mountaineer

Name: Ian Clarke Age: 20 Occupation: Student at University of Vermont; Licensed commercial glider pilot  Claim to fame Ian Clarke was the only American to compete as a junior in the 2017 Ski Mountaineering World Championships and has been the youngest commercial glider pilot in Vermont. Lives in: Burlington, Vt.

Ian Clark spends summers working as a glider pilot and racing road bikes. In the winter, he competes at the international level in ski mountaineering. Photo by Tracy Beers.

Before he could drive himself to school, Ian Clarke was the only 14-year-old in the state to earn a solo gliding pilot’s license. He got his commercial pilot’s license at 17. In 2017, he was also the only American to compete as a junior in the International Ski Mountaineering Federation World Championships in Italy, where he finished 23rd overall, just one year after his first skimo race.

Clarke grew up near Killington and was introduced to glider planes as a kid by his dad, who was a commercial pilot. “I used to get dragged to the airport, where I’d hang out in the hangar with the pilots. Eventually I started cleaning planes,” said Clarke.

Today, he works at Sugarbush Soaring as a pilot during his summers off from the University of Vermont, where he’s double majoring in Community Entrepreneurship and International Development. Clarke says being a commercial glider pilot is an exercise in self-confidence. “When you’re 17 years old and can’t shave and clients are stepping into a plane you’re about to fly, they give you some funny looks.”

Clarke is also a member of the Jamison Capital-Cannondale U23 elite cycling team. His favorite ride is the 33-mile Lincoln Gap-App Gap loop, which includes one of the steepest miles of paved road in the Lower 48.

Building up cycling endurance helped him compete as a junior in the 2017 Ski Mountaineering World Championships. He said the experience was humbling and he thinks it made him faster. “I like to joke that it’s the hardest sport that nobody cares about,” said Clarke, who is also a former alpine ski racer. “In Europe, it’s like the NBA.” In an effort to get more young people interested in skimo locally, Clarke helped found the UVM Backcountry Skiing Club.

Gliding aside, Clarke has a full fall of cross training ahead of him to prepare for the Skimo World Cup qualifying races in Colorado in December 2018. “Skimo is new enough that there isn’t really an established rule or training method that people at the top have adopted,” he says. “I plan to do a lot of running up and down Killington and a lot of cycling.”

Clarke sees commonalities between skiing, soaring and cycling. “All three sports give you freedom of motion. You’re always trying to go further and faster and there’s always more to explore,” he says. “That was especially exciting for me as a kid. Before I could drive, I was flying over the hillsides on my skis and in the air.”

On August 29, a glider crashed into Sterling Mountain, near Smuggler’s Notch. Tragically, two passengers and the pilot, Don Post, who owned Stowe Soaring, perished. Clarke says his thoughts are with those who were affected by the crash but that he’ll continue to soar.

Clarke credits flying with giving him a discipline that he applies to all his sports. “In flying, we have checklists. I make them for big bike rides and skimo adventures because when you’re nervous or scared it’s comforting to know everything’s in the green.” 

Abagael Giles

Abagael Giles is the Assistant Editor at Vermont Ski + Ride Magazine. She loves free-heel skiing and exploring her home state of Vermont–one ridgetop at a time. Find her on Twitter at @AbagaelGiles.