One of the more ironic aspects to living in the Front Range of Colorado, from a skier’s perspective, is the fact of being so close to some of the best skiing in the U.S. and yet having to drive so far to actually access it. Denver residents can see snow-capped peaks from the city, but usually have to drive at least an hour to reach decent cross-country skiing.
The Denver Nordic Ski Association, or Ski Denver, was formed in June to address this dilemma. On top of wanting to make cross-country skiing easily accessible to city residents, the organization’s founders specifically set out to help the sport grow in Denver by making it more affordable for beginners.
“I’ve been interested in bringing skiing closer to Denver ever since I’ve been coaching here,” said Denver University head coach and Ski Denver co-founder Dave Stewart. “For people who don’t have the means or the time to go up to the mountains, it will be amazing to have skiing in the city.”
Snowfall in the Front Range isn’t as reliable as it is in the mountains; some winters it stays for just a few days while others it sticks for months at a time. “In 2006 you could have skied in Denver for two and a half months straight,” Stewart said. Even if 2013 is a relatively spare season in the Mile High City, Ski Denver wants to be there from the moment the first flakes fly to prove you don’t have to live in the mountains to ski out your back door.
The story of Ski Denver’s formation is representative of how badly area skiers have wanted someplace to ski close to home. Stewart began contacting the City of Denver in the spring of 2012 to inquire about the possibility of bringing grooming to existing public land and found that others had already done the same. Stewart joined forces with Matt Medlock, Russ Rizzo and Miles Graham, filed the association’s non-profit paperwork in June, and Ski Denver was born.
The group’s first objectives are to establish a pilot ski area at one of Denver’s public golf courses and build a strong membership base with which to grow the organized Denver ski community and help pay for grooming operations. The group has already been actively promoting itself in the city with fundraisers and events. According to Rizzo, they currently have 60 paying members and 600 subscribers between its newsletter and Facebook page.
“There will be groomed trails in Denver for the first time in history, and we’ve seen an outpouring of excitement,” Rizzo said. “I think people in the nordic community are all over Denver and just haven’t been organized before.”
Rizzo describes himself as a recreational skier. As a relatively new member of the nordic community, he sees outdoor and endurance enthusiasts like him as the people who’d be willing to pick up the sport if it is more accessible.
“I cross-country ski with my wife because she doesn’t like to downhill ski. We ski in the woods in Indian Peaks Wilderness and I’ve skated a couple times and know it’s really good exercise,” Rizzo said. “I’m a biker and a triathlete. I am the target demographic: the guy who goes, ‘Oh yeah, if it’s closer to me I’d totally buy skis to get out and cross train.’”
Likewise, Stewart is most excited about introducing the sport to more people. Nearby groomed trails will help his student-athletes train, but the more motivating aspect of his involvement, he says, is bringing local and affordable skiing to a broader base of Denver residents.
“For us it’s not as big a deal whether there’s snow in the city or not, we have great skiing in the mountains,” Stewart said. “But if we get one day in Denver, that’s great. If we expose people to skiing, and show people we can do this and not have to drive to the mountains, that’s great. That’s the real motivation.”
Ski Denver hosted a rollerski event on Sunday in Washington Park. Experienced skiers from the DU ski team and the Boulder Nordic Junior Race Team were in attendance, but so were people putting on rollerskis for the first time in their lives. Rizzo was one of them, and as he gained confidence skiing back and forth across the pavement, people stopped by to see what was going on.
“That’s what we’re trying to make happen; get people excited about the sport,” Rizzo said.
“If you’re a cross-country skier you probably backcountry ski too, and you probably cycle. Those folks love gear, and the nordic community seems to love gear, too. They want to work out the same muscles and be outside because it’s beautiful, but it would never make sense to drive an hour and a half to go do it. Those are the folks that we’re excited to start activating.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.