Sailing Lake Dillon and the appeal of an unfakeable sport |

Sailing Lake Dillon and the appeal of an unfakeable sport

A sailboat passes in front of Peak One after leaving the Dillon Marina on a cloudy, surreal afternoon in July. With eerie views like this, sailing isn't just a skilled sport — it's the lens to see a new side of Summit.
Lauren Flower / Special to the Daily |

A rowing regatta and discounted entry for the Rocky Mtn. Tri

Lake Dillon Challenge rowing and SUP regatta — Sunday, Aug. 2

Not only are SUPers hurtling down whitewater these days — they’re also racing in regattas. The Frisco Rowing Center’s annual Lake Dillon Challenge rowing and paddle-boarding regatta returns to the Frisco Bay Marina for its seventh year on Aug. 2. The competition comes with two courses: a 6-mile long course and 2.5-mile short course. Racing kicks off with a rowers meeting at 7:20 a.m. First heats leave at 7:30 a.m. Paddlers meet at 8:30 a.m., with first SUP heats at 8:40 a.m. Rowing registration is already closed, but SUPers can sign up from 7-8 a.m. on regatta day. Fee is $35 per paddler, and spectators can watch for free. Bring your own gear.

Rocky Mountain Triathlon — Sunday, Aug. 9

This weekend, Lake Dillon played host to the unofficial world’s highest regatta, and next weekend, itsy-bitsy North Pond continues the “world’s highest” trend with the Rocky Mountain Triathlon, touted as the “highest tri in the world.” At a starting elevation of 8,730 feet, it comes close enough. The course is “insanely beautiful,” promoter Justine Spence says, and she’s hardly exaggerating. It starts at North Pond Park with a swim, then heads north to Ute Pass for the bike and run.

Locals, this one’s for you: To get 20-percent off ($88 instead of $110), use the code SUMMIT during checkout. Online registration ends Aug. 4 at 8 a.m., and keep in mind, this is a USA Triathlon event — all competitors must also buy a USAT membership ($10 youth, $12 adult). To register, see

So I haven’t stopped talking and thinking and even fantasizing about sailing in a few weeks.

Actually, it started more like a few months ago, when I transplanted to Summit County from the narrow, claustrophobic corridor of eastern Eagle County, aka the Vail Valley. Since we’re talking about water, an ECO native once told me that Vail Valley is a misnomer at best and simply ridiculous at worst. There’s no Vail River, so why not call it the Gore Valley?

But I digress. For the sake of sanity, I’ll just go with “the Valley” instead.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I fell for the Valley shortly after moving there a few years ago, and I still take Beaver Creek over Breck (or Vail) on a powder day. Yet as a Denver kid, Summit County has always felt like home (at least for the outdoor craziness I couldn’t find on the Front Range), and home has always had a big, jagged, bluish-black hole plunked right in the middle. Dillon Reservoir just belongs in Summit County, and for all of Vail’s investor clout, the Valley will never be home to a deep-water lake.

But, for some reason, I rarely thought about sailing when the lake had me mesmerized from the top of Schoolmarm. Granted, the lake I knew and ogled as a kid was covered in a thick sheet of ice about 90 percent of the time. I only saw sailboats on the occasional summer camping trip, when I was more interested in fishing the Blue and poking fire pits than struggling with my least favorite element, wind. I could’ve cared less about sailing.

Until now.

The ‘unfakeable’

For the first time, I’m living in Summit County from June to September — the thick of Summit summer — and that’s when the lake truly comes to life. The marinas thaw out, the Tiki Bar and Island Grill clean their taps, and dozens of coastal transplants from the East Coast and Great Lakes get a boating fix for a few short, sweet months. The only difference is, you can’t swim in the 55-degree water.

And, so, my brain has been fixated on sailing. Not fishing, not SUPing, not dockside lounging — sailing, as in the sport and culture of sailing.

Come to think of it, maybe my obsession with sailing started a few years back. I’d been on a sailboat only once before this past week, when a friend took me on a transport run from Oakland to Sausalito across the San Francisco Bay. The afternoon was an absolute blast — high siding at 28 knots, passing within sight of Alcatraz, picking my friend’s brain about sailing basics — and, to my legitimate surprise, I found myself coveting dock space when we pulled into Sausalito.

Maybe I’m a naïve mountain hermit, but did you know that small pockets of young dockhands live together in 35-foot boats right on the water, all year, like ski bums who crash in ’70s A-frames? I didn’t.

It’s hardly a stretch to say I’m now living in the alpine equivalent of Sausalito. Sure, Dillon is no San Francisco Bay, and no one here calls a boat home, but when Bob Evans of the Dillon Marina took me on the water in late July, I left the marina with the same rush. I’m interested in harbor space all over again — never mind that an entry-level J/22 is $8,000 out of my price range — and I want to get good at sailing, like actual sailing. The Bay was well and good, but as Evans says, unpredictable winds turn Dillon into the “black diamond of sailing.”

That spoke to my inner snowboarder and my skewed sensibilities. Sailing reminds me of telemarking, a sport that, for lack of a better term, I’ve always thought of as an “unfakeable skill.” Think of it this way: Can you pinpoint a telemark skier by looking at him/her? And, even if you could, is it any less impressive when those bad***** slay chutes, in a foot of powder, while doing the equivalent of a thousand lunges?

Take another example of an unfakeable skill: stunt piloting. Hundreds of thousands of hobby pilots float around in Cessnas, but a small, extremely talented group is drawn to loops and barrel rolls and pulling G’s — the sort of maneuvers lesser pilots are taught to avoid. Evans, my sailboat skipper, moonlights as a stunt pilot. But even if you knew he was a veteran sailor of four decades, would you guess he’s also an air-show pilot? And that he knows how to finesse a plane through a free-fall because sailing taught him to read the wind?

I’ve always been the sort to tackle a new sport head on, even if I fail miserably, and learning to sail on Dillon makes my mouth water. It requires a keen eye, a delicate touch, an instinctual control of the basics — rigging, steering, reading the wind — and, most importantly, it can’t be faked. I’ve seen plenty of tall tees on park mice who can hardly tighten their Boas, but damn it, they look good being clueless. They’re faking it and doing just fine.

With Lake Dillon sailing, not so much. Evans and I passed at least one boat caught helplessly in the wind, its mainsail twirling and flopping like a deflated plastic bag. The captain was surrounded by land on all sides, yet still, I couldn’t stop thinking about the realities of sailing without training wheels: When you screw up, the only thing between you and endless ocean is, well, you. Like telemarking and stunt piloting, sailing is an unfakeable skill.

I like that.

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