“It’s just worked out amazing”
[ by Than Acuff ]
Every November, the Green Mountain Valley School (GMVS) Nordic team heads west for three weeks of pre-season training. Typically, the athletes, ranging from seventh to 12th grade, spend the time in Idaho, culminating with the annual Thanksgiving Nordic Camp in West Yellowstone.
This year though, the team adjusted its plans in accordance with the current pandemic situation and through some contacts with local Nordic enthusiasts, and former Vermont residents, they ended up here in Crested Butte for three weeks of training and exploring.
“We came to Crested Butte for really two reasons,” explains GMVS Nordic program director and coach Colin Rodgers. “First we wanted to mix it up this year and COVID was running rampant in Idaho. It just made sense to try something new.”
Rodgers has quite the resume in the Nordic skiing world, growing up and skiing in Vermont, captaining the Middlebury College Ski Team, competing internationally in cross country skiing for seven years and was hired to coach the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Cross Country Gold Team. He eventually returned to Vermont to head the GMVS Nordic program and through his connection with Idaho would take his team there for their November camp.
It was also during his formative years in Vermont that he connected with the Banks family, Murray, Jane, Steve and Jeff, and with those contacts, and others, GMVS opted for Crested Butte to train.
“I’ve always known Murray, and Steve and Jeff are a couple of years older than me and I used to chase them around when I was young,” says Rodgers.
The team of seven athletes and two coaches flew into Denver on November 7 and headed straight for Crested Butte. As they drove up and over Cottonwood Pass, they realized this was going to work out just fine.
“As we were driving on November 7, we came over the pass and it started to snow,” says Rodgers. “We were on our skis on November 8 up near Lily Lake.”
The athletes and coaches paced themselves during the first week of training, as their school sits at 800 feet above sea level and training in and around Crested Butte meant a jump to 9,000 to 11,000 feet in elevation.
“The first week was more easy, long, slow distance days exploring and getting used to the altitude,” says Rodgers, “setting us up to be able to train harder the next two weeks.”
Training anywhere from three to four and a half hours each day, Rodgers and his assistant coach Kat Howe have explored as much as the area has to offer with skiing on the Lily Lake trails, up into the surrounding drainages as well as trips to Gunnison for additional training options.
“We’ve been sleeping up high and heading to Gunnison for training at Hartman Rocks and roller skiing up Ohio Creek,” says Rodgers. “We’ve been out to Gothic, up to Irwin. We’ve been poking around.”
Obviously, keeping themselves and Crested Butte safe from COVID is paramount. The team has remained together in their condos with the coaches doing the shopping and the kids staying within their pod. In addition, they have a regimented testing plan in place, which includes bringing their own tests and sending the tests overnight back to a lab in Cambridge, Mass. and getting results back in 24 to 36 hours.
“We want to make sure as a team traveling we’re not putting anyone at risk,” says Rodgers. “We’re definitely keeping it pretty locked down—mostly training, recovering and keeping up with studies.”
Rodgers, Howe and GMVS maintain a commitment and shared passion to the sport of skiing with their athletes. As a result, their crew of seven kids runs the gamut of development levels. On one end there is the second-ranked u18 Nordic racer in the nation, Brian Bushey, who was one of three guys to represent the U.S. at the Youth Olympic Games last year. On the other end is a seventh grader who decided to make the jump from alpine racing to Nordic racing for the first time this year. Despite the variety in development within the team, the group as a whole shares one thing in common.
“Most of the older athletes are planning to ski in college,” says Rodgers. “But there is one common thread on the team—everybody loves to be on skis.”
Currently their home state of Vermont is on lockdown and the racing season remains in flux, so Rodgers and his athletes remain grateful for what skiing they are able to get in during these crazy times—so much so that they might make a return to Crested Butte in the future.
“I would not put it out of the realm of possibilities,” says Rodgers. “This has been awesome for us and the kids are learning a lot about their bodies when training at altitude and how it affects them. It’s just worked out amazing.”