‘If they build it, they will come’: After Frisco Nordic Center successfully hosts last-minute event, manager eyes improvements
December 22, 2017
Jim Galanes compares snow-grooming in a Prinoth Cat to flying a fighter jet. With 10different buttons and three different handles to continually work on, producing the kind of snow ideal for cross-country races takes years of accumulated skill.
"You can't just get in it and go," the three-time Olympic Nordic skier Galanes said.
But earlier this month, it was a bit of go-go-go for Galanes in just his second year as the Frisco Nordic Center's manager. He and the center's first-year snowcat operator, alpine-grooming veteran Adele Zeh, worked overtime and were two of the primary parties tasked this month with transforming the Frisco Nordic Center into a last-minute venue to host the United States Ski Association's Rocky Mountain Region qualifier.
The event, organized locally by the Summit Nordic Ski Club, was originally slated to take place at the Gold Run Nordic Center in Breckenridge. But with no snowmaking at the facility, the club and its director Whitney Hedberg had to place an eleventh hour call to the town of Frisco to see about making the move under the same in-kind services agreement the club had with the town of Breckenridge — to provide the Nordic facility for free.
"The way it works for us," Hedberg said, "in order for us to put this on as a tiny nonprofit, we need the support of a town to do it."
And for Hedberg, that meant ringing up Galanes.
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"Two weeks out we came and said: 'There is no snow in the forecast,'" Hedberg recalled. "'Can you save us Jim?' And he said, 'Sure, no problem. I can save you.'
"Two weeks might sound like a lot of time," Hedberg added, "but in the snowmaking world and race production world, this was absolutely eleventh hour."
The whirlwind that was prepping the Frisco Nordic Center for the Saturday and Sunday USSA event was an interesting case study for both Hedberg and Galanes in event planning.
For one, there was just the sheer effort to put on the event, as Galanes said it took his crew and the Frisco Adventure Park team — with the help of the town of Frisco's Department of Public Works — 800 bucket loader trips to cover the 2-kilometer loop course with 10 to 12 inches of snow.
"We would have two shifts a day," he said, "Sixteen hours, basically, a day."
And once Zeh put down her finishing touches, the Summit Nordic Ski Club provided 50 volunteers that helped with other elements of finalzing the area for race day.
For Galanes and Hedberg, two skiers with a vested interest in the Summit County Nordic skiing community, they both also feel the experience of putting on the event helped them to further determine what kind of improvements they'd like to see at the Nordic Center. The ideas are tentative, but they include renovating and redesigning 10 to 15 kilometers of the center's 27 kilometers of trails, installing a new stadium location and installing piping for much more efficient snowmaking operations.
"To create a 10- to 20-year vision of what the Nordic Center is going to look like down the road," Galanes said.
Galanes is currently leading the finalization of a master plan for the center that the town of Frisco asked him to put together as a consultant this past year. Once completed, public presentations for feedback will follow, potentially as early as next month, Galanes said. The center's manger added that several partners, landowners and consultant groups such as the town and local Forest Service are also involved in the planning process. Galanes said he's submitted a first draft of the plan to the town already.
"The big thing we know from the last two years," Galnes said, "is if we are going to do snowmaking successfully we need to improve the infrasturuce, to not have to haul snow such distances. Really that's the most expensive part. It makes it hard to be sustainable."
Galanes' work has Hedberg and her husband Olof, the Summit Nordic Ski Club's head coach, brimming with excitement for the future of cross-country ski events and cross-country skiing in general here in Frisco. To Hedberg, she feels what her ski club, Galanes' crew and the town were able to pull off was a message to the rest of the state.
"This is unprecendented," she said. "There has been no other Nordic center in the state of Colorado — and I'd venture even further — that has put forth this kind of effort to put on a race for junior athletes. We made a statement to the Nordic community that the town of Frisco is a Nordic town and loves Nordic skiing."
"People were literally in awe," Hedberg continued, "that we were able to have a 2-and-a-half kilometer loop of man-made snow."
People may have been in awe and the last-minute event may have been a roaring success, but the event did close the Nordic Center to the public for prime portions of both Saturday and Sunday. Considering any kind of a closure does have an affect on income for the town, Hedberg and Galanes pointed to the construction of a new stadium location in a different spot than on the flat land adjacent to the Nordic Center's doors as necessary if the center wants to host big events while also keeping portions of the facility open to the public during times of light natural snowfall.
"The terrain around this location makes it hard to do dual operations," Galanes said. "We are not set up to be the ideal venue for the ski race with that location and the way terrain is around it. But we are going through the master planning process for the Nordic Center to hopefully take another look at how we use the peninsula."
That's the future, but as for the past the Hedbergs were proud of the work Galanes, Zeh and others completed. Galanes said though Zeh was nervous about the snow-manicuring time crunch, she executed a masterful job on some tough grooming portions of the course, namely the chevron arrow-shape start. It's a tricky design where groomers must leave enough space to have a classic, seven-lane track start laid perfectly parallel while also funneling into four lanes and then two.
Despite the difficulties, such as tilling out wet, man-made snow on the trail, the grooming team was able to pull it off thanks to Zeh and Galanes' years of experience. And, looking ahead, the unexpected and sudden relocation of the event provided new knowledge for the Hedbergs and their club.
"What I learned out of this is if the Nordic center is willing to commit to snowmaking," Hedberg said, "it's almost an, 'If they build it, they will come,' situation. That will attract high-level clubs from a long distance to come and train, and also attract high-level races.
"It's nice to have the pinnacle of the sport here."
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