When head on-hill alpine coach Tiania Adams looks at this year's roster, she sees two things.
First, enrollment in the program is up slightly over last year.
Second, she's excited to see Team Breck names on the list.
This year, thanks to a rule change and to the staggered race schedule, a few Team Breck athletes have opted to compete both in their club program as well as on the high school team. Names like sophomores Katy Harris and Ellie Brown-Wolf.
"Katy is one of the strongest skiers in her age group in the country," Adams said. "We're fortunate her schedule allows her to ski high school."
Anne Parker, another team highlight and Team Summit athlete, is back on the team after a sophomore-year hiatus and brings skill as one of the top skiers in her Colorado division to the team. And Nicole Wagner is a bright spot on the roster, Adams added.
"It's a stronger team," she said, explaining that it will be key to have Team Breck racers adding to the Team Summit mix in terms of both leadership on race day as well as on the results sheet.
On the boys' side, senior Daniel McFadden is new to the team, but not to racing. His teammates and coaches are looking forward to having his skill on board.
"It's going to be good. We have a few more club skiers," boys' captain Lucas Michieli said, adding that last year, the boys finished third in the state.
"We hope to do our best (this year) and get all the younger kids coming back," teammate Ryan Wignall said. Michieli added, "It's important we get (the freshmen) to push themselves in training, motivating them and giving them tips. Once they have a good run, they'll be motivated for sure."
Having a large influx of underclassmen is a boon to what was a smaller team last year. It also means depth, which is important in alpine racing, where skiers are "skirting the edge of danger," administrative head coach Karl Barth said. "It's such a fine line" to win a race, he added, explaining that a lot can happen in such a high-performance sport. A race can be lost in a crash, a missed gate, a wrong edge and more.
In high school racing, mistakes can mean the difference between not just an individual podium, but also a team top finish. There's strategy in the coaching, Barth said, explaining that he has asked racers to curtail a run into a more conservative one so as not to risk an error and instead ensure finish points.
And when the coaches' goal is to qualify more than half the team for state - and land a top finish at state - it's important to have depth. Last year, five freshmen, three sophomores and one junior qualified for state, so the returning team has strong potential.
However, it's not an easy field of competition in the racing world, Barth and Adams said. Evergreen and Nederland collect the Jefferson County, Denver Metro racers and are an alpine powerhouse (and are getting better in Nordic skiing, Barth said).
Meanwhile, Aspen is always a first-place podium contender, with slope access an easy walk across the street from the high school doors. Steamboat has the Howelsen Ski Area dedicated to its training, and Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain High School are in close proximity to Vail and Beaver Creek race courses. Summit, also among the top teams in the state, has its own advantage in night skiing at Keystone, meaning less missed class for Summit athletes.
One key component in strategizing the team's races is the Nordic ski team, whose performance can help tip the scales toward victory or defeat for the ski program as a whole.
Barth remembers an alpine member, still adorned in his speed suit, running alongside a Nordic teammate, cheering him on toward victory. Last year, Summit sought to keep Aspen within sight, keeping in mind that Nordic could make up the difference.
"Last year, the boys' Nordic was stronger than alpine," Adams said. "Last year, we didn't have the Katys ... on either team."
One highlight on the boys' team is Logan Ramsay, a named Skimeister (an award given to the top Nordic-alpine combined skier). The last one Summit had was Ian Parker, Anne Parker's brother, and he won state. So, Ramsay's coaches have high hopes for him.
Leading up to the Dec. 15 scrimmage at Loveland and the subsequent GS race at Loveland following the new year, the team is working on dryland conditioning. It won't take to the hill until next week, when athletes will hike up and do drills on the way down. Lift-serviced night practices begin after the Christmas holiday.