Summit youth winter sports clubs try to accommodate dramatic increase in interest
With schooling remote and limited capacity for ski and ride instruction at local ski resorts, Summit County youth winter sports clubs are seeing increased demand for their services.
Olof Hedberg, head coach of the Summit Nordic Ski Club, said the demand for the club’s elementary-age U-10 and U-12 programming has seen a 50% increase compared to last winter. However, Hedberg said the club has not been able to take on that increased demand at the Frisco Nordic Center because the club doesn’t have enough coaches.
“We are part of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association, and all of our coaches have to be USSA certified and background checked,” Hedberg said. “But for our younger skiers, it filled up, and we can’t push anyone through the USSA program and try to get another coach. There are a lot of requirements to become a coach. The demand for the youngest kids, that was just higher than expected.”
Accommodating the spike in interested skiers and snowboarders is one of several variables local youth clubs are juggling, and that’s despite nearly all youth competitions to this point being canceled.
Katie Merrion, executive officer at Team Breckenridge, said the club’s two youngest age groups — Shred for ages 5-7 and Devo for ages 7-12 — have seen a 400% increase year-over-year. Those programs are seeing the jump, Merrion believes, because Breckenridge Ski Resort has altered and limited Ski & Ride School offerings for younger children.
“A lot of families and parents are looking for something for younger kids. They’re looking to provide program for them,” Merrion said. “We’ve seen a really kind of interesting shift in our program numbers where we’ve had a ton of younger kids enroll this year, and we are very excited about it. There’s definitely some logistical obstacles we had to overcome, the biggest one being all the third-party teams are not allowed to go indoors this season, so we’ve gotten creative with how athletes stay warm throughout the day.”
Merrion said that includes using vans to help athletes warm up in between stints on the slopes. As for competitions, Merrion said that is still in flux. Team Breck athletes won’t compete until January at the earliest, and those races will be local and regional, without athletes traveling out of state — a USSA recommendation across the country. As far as hosting events, Merrion said the club is planning to host a single competition: a U-14 super-G in February.
After last month’s U.S. opener in Montana and all December events were canceled, Hedberg said his gut feeling is that there will be only a few high-level race opportunities until at least March. Because of this uncertainty for all Nordic skiers, namely younger skiers, Hedberg said he and his coaches are trying to manifest “race-like simulations” in practice. The goal of the time-trial-like experiences, the coach said, is for kids to be ready to race if and when they get the opportunity.
C.B. Bechtel, executive director of Team Summit, said the club has operated with a 6-to-1 coach-to-kid ratio since the first groups returned to snow Oct. 23. The only competitions Team Summit athletes have competed in have been a few Alpine ski races at Copper Mountain Resort last month and earlier this month. Now, Bechtel said, everyone is on hold until the beginning of January.
At that point, Team Summit hopes to begin a more robust contest slate. But it’ll be one where no athletes or families stay overnight anywhere. Bechtel said the number of new families with Team Summit this year is up 30% and that the club has been able to accommodate those additions, though they are still hiring some coaching slots deep into December.
Bechtel said a decision on USASA Nationals at Copper, the largest youth ski and snowboard competition in the country each year, will come much later in the season. Between now and then, USASA will launch a video submission program as its first competition for Rocky Mountain athletes.
Throughout training, Hedberg said the Summit Nordic Ski Club has had one COVID-19 case at the end of September. Bechtel said Team Summit hasn’t seen any outbreaks within its organization since June.
“We’ve had some quarantines happen because of exposures outside of Team Summit,” Bechtel said. “But we haven’t had any quarantines because of exposures within Team Summit.”
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