Rocky Mountain Junior Olympics regatta returns to Lake Dillon for 1st time since 2013 |

Rocky Mountain Junior Olympics regatta returns to Lake Dillon for 1st time since 2013

2016 Rocky Mountain Junior Olympics regatta

What: An annual junior regatta sponsored by U.S. Sailing for youth sailors from across the region and world, including Colorado, Illinois and Great Britain

When: Saturday and Sunday, July 30-31 beginning at noon

Where: Dillon Marina, 150 Marina Drive in Dillon

Cost: Free for spectators

Registration is closed for the regatta, but parents and the public are welcome to watch for free from the Dillon Marina. All racecourses stay close to the docks. Racing begins around noon daily and ends around 4 p.m. after a minimum of four races per day. The Dillon Junior Sailing program will also host pontoon tours free of charge for parents. To find out more about the regatta or the Dillon sailing program, see

There’s sailing, and then there’s sailing on Lake Dillon. This weekend, dozens of young skippers will learn the difference firsthand.

For the first time since 2013, the U.S. Sailing Rocky Mountain Junior Olympics regatta returns to the High Country for two days of racing on Summit County’s signature technical waters. It’s been dubbed the “black diamond of sailing” by Dillon Marina manager Bob Evans, and it shows, with unpredictable wind shifts and devastating microbursts — the sort that easily flip small, one-person craft commanded by the majority of youth sailors. It’s a far cry from Cherry Creek Reservoir, home of the 2015 regatta, and even Carter Lake in the foothills of Larimer County, home to the most recent junior race of the season.

“Up here is truly the home of this regatta,” said James Welch, director of the Dillon Junior Sailing program at the Dillon Marina. “The wind, to be honest, is quite a bit better than it is out on Cherry Creek, but it can still be unforgiving.”

Then again, these kids are hardly greenhorns. They’re experienced sailors from across the state, country and world, including the fabled Columbia Yacht Club in Chicago and one competitor from Great Britain, which makes this year’s regatta the first international youth race in Dillon’s history, Welch jokes.

Joining more than 110 visiting sailors are 20 or so locals with Welch’s junior program. For the past week, they’ve been out on the water near the Dillon Marina — smack in the middle of the Junior Olympics racecourse — practicing and perfecting their form in single-person boats. It was an informal race camp, Welch says, and even though his students are familiar with the wild winds of their home lake, it never hurts to get better, especially when they’re about to face off with veteran sailors from every corner of the globe.

“I like this because it gives our kids a chance to sail against kids they don’t see often,” Welch said. “It’s a good gauge of their racing knowledge and how they compete. This is focused on competition and fun, and the competition side just gives people a chance to see how much they know.”

The next generation

Like the elite Dillon Open Regatta from Aug. 5-7, the Junior Olympics races follow a typical regatta format. Racing begins Saturday around noon (or whenever the wind will allow), with skippers from 6 to 18 years old commanding boats in four classes: Optimist, Laser radial, Club 420 (a two-person craft) and the relatively new RS Tera. Those four are the cornerstones of sailboat racing around the world — chances are the Dillon Open sailors started on similar craft years and years before cutting their chops on J22, J24 and larger craft.

“We’re trying to build a fleet in Colorado to promote more of the RS Tera racing,” Welch said. “The Optimist is popular around the world, but it’s not too friendly for capsizing. Here in the mountains, where the wind is so tricky, we want to keep the kids safest and the RS Terra is better for our conditions. It’s much easier to right if it gets capsized.”

It makes sense: After all, the Junior Olympics regatta is the future of the sport, a fun yet demanding way for the next generation of sailors to perfect their craft. Frank Keesling, former commodore at the Dillon Yacht Club, says that sailing is a skill sport — the kind even veterans continue to examine and dissect.

“The challenge that comes with the sport of sailing is great,” said Keesling, a Denver native who started sailing on Lake Dillon in the ’70s. “It’s technical — you have to keep your head in the game. I don’t think the learning curve ever ends with the sport of sailing.”

Then comes the socializing. Sailing is a community sport, and here, in landlocked Colorado, the community is small. An event like the Junior Olympics regatta is a rendezvous for the next generation, no matter where they’re from.

“It’s always good to get people together and the Denver kids really enjoy sailing in the mountains,” Welch said. “They’re so used to the busy reservoirs that aren’t very sailor friendly because of the power boats. Bringing all these kids together is a great way to build the community.”

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