Summit High skiers brave frigid temps, fierce Aspen team en route to state | SummitDaily.com

Summit High skiers brave frigid temps, fierce Aspen team en route to state

On an absolutely frigid late-January afternoon, the Summit High School Nordic ski team was bundling up for an hour or two of sprint drills at the Frisco Nordic Center. The temperature was hovering around 11 degrees Fahrenheit and the 15-some-odd skiers at practice that day already looked cold. Only senior captain Matt McBrearty seemed like he was enjoying the near-zero conditions, dressed in a long-sleeve top with race-suit bottoms, thin gloves and a beanie. There was no need for sunglasses — try as it might, the sun was permanently stuck behind a hazy film of snow and clouds high above Peak One.

"When I'm running practice I'm focusing on others, helping them," McBrearty said from inside the cozy Nordic center lodge while his teammates got mentally prepared for the cold. "When the coaches are here, I work on myself. As much as this is an individual sport, you can't get better if you don't work as a team."

And so, even when Old Man Winter was at his worst in Summit County, the complete Tigers Nordic team of about 20 high school-only racers (plus a dozen Summit Nordic Ski Club athletes) sucks it up and puts in the work, snow or shine, balmy or bone chilling.

"We've made Nordic a bit more serious for the team this year," said McBrearty, alluding to his team's work ethic in all conditions. "There's more to it than where you put your skis. It's how you transition from one style to the other, and how you work on endurance. We're trying to set realistic goals. We're being honest with each other, because if you're not being honest you can't improve. You'll stay the same."

In the hunt

By this point in the season, the Summit Nordic team and its alpine counterpart with about 40 members have competed in a handful of events at venues across the region: the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center and Snow Mountain Ranch for the Nordic crew; Loveland, Aspen, Beaver Creek, Copper Mountain and Ski Cooper for the alpine skiers. With a combined five events remaining, both teams are fine-tuning technique and picking away at times until the Colorado state ski championships, held this season from Feb. 23-24 on the vaunted alpine courses of Steamboat Springs and World Cup-level Nordic tracks at nearby Howelsen Hill.

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"We're looking good this season," Nordic head coach Jonathan Mocatta said shortly after the first race of the season on Jan. 7. "We're going up against teams like Vail, Aspen, Steamboat, and we're holding our own with them."

The Tigers are fighting — the team motto: "One season, one goal" — but this winter isn't like all of the others, and it has nothing to do with endless snowfall. For the first time since 2015, the Summit ski team entered the season without a combined state title to defend.

In Colorado, high school skiing is split into both disciplines — alpine and Nordic, with divisions for boys and girls — and overall winners in both are crowned at the state championships. Last season, Aspen and Battle Mountain split the state honors, leaving Summit in third place for both disciplines ahead of nine other schools from across the state.

As always, both Summit teams have their sights set on yet another state championship — the 14th in school history if they win this February — but they know it won't be easy. Not even close.

"Aspen are incredible skiers," McBrearty said, noting that this year's Steamboat team also looks tough. "They're an amazing team with great training, and they have a team and a club like everyone else does. They always manage to top us and everyone else. I can tell they're training hard and working hard in an intense environment."

New year, new dynamics

Along with co-captain Karina Gonzalez, a senior who had never been on Nordic skis until joining the team her junior year, McBrearty doesn't race with the local club team. SNSC has produced dozens of collegiate athletes over the years, but it's also one of the reasons this year's Summit High team doesn't look the same as it did when the school last won a state ski title in 2015. Since then, the school team has lost young phenom Ezra Smith (now the No. 1-ranked U-18 skier in the nation) to the U.S. Ski Team, while the alpine team has lost senior Gisele Thompson to Team Summit Colorado.

For alpine senior Megan Anderson, losing skiers to club programs might not be that big of a deal. The slalom specialist raced with Team Summit until her sophomore year, when she suffered a broken back during a super-G race at Aspen. That convinced her to give up the "intense" ski club scene, but not skiing as a whole.

"I just didn't want to go back to that intense of a skiing environment, But I wanted to stay with skiing," Anderson said. "I also think it's a really cool team sport. Even though it's individual, it's good to work as a team."

If the Nordic and alpine teams share one thing in common, it's the team mentality. Anderson knows there are tons of freshmen on the team this year, and if nothing else, she simply wants to make them better.

"Most seasons we have more club racers, but this year for some reason it's almost all high school racers," Anderson said. "I think that's really better for the team, but for our results it's not as good… I just hope that we have a good time, that we have fun, and by the end of the season I'm better friends with the girls I don't know as well."

2017 Tigers ski team schedule

High school ski racing in Colorado is a much different beast than other varsity sports. To crown a state champion, CHSAA looks at combined results from alpine and Nordic races for boys and girls, held at venues across the state between January and February. Summit competes against 12 other Colorado schools for the title: Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Eagle Valley, Battle Mountain, Lake County, Colorado Rocky Mountain, Vail Mountain School, Evergreen, Clear Creek, Platte Canyon, Middle Park and Nederland.

Alpine

Feb. 2 — Giant slalom, Keystone

Feb. 10 — Slalom, Beaver Creek

Feb. 23 — State GS Championships, Steamboat Springs

Feb. 24 — State Slalom Championships, Steamboat Springs

Nordic

Jan. 28 — Individual skate, Maloit Park in Minturn

Feb. 4 — Individual classic and skate, Maloit Park in Minturn

Feb. 11 — Mass start classic, Frisco Nordic Center

Feb. 23 — State Individual Classic Championships, Steamboat Springs

Feb. 24 — State Mass Start Classic Championships, Steamboat Springs