Take 5: Local Nordic gurus Therese and Gene Dayton scale back — but they aren’t going away
Summit County Nordic Ski Swap
What: An annual pre-season fundraiser and ski swap, with equipment for Nordic skiing, alpine touring and more in a variety of sizes
When: Nov. 11 to Nov. 22, daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Breckenridge Nordic Center, 9 Grandview Drive in Breckenridge
The ski swap is free and open to the public for browsing. All proceeds from gear sales benefit local organizations, including the Summit Nordic Ski Club. If interested in contributing gear, stop by the Nordic center anytime during ski swap hours for a store credit. To find out more, call the center at 970-453-6855 or see the website at www.breckenridgenordic.com.
Therese Dayton wants Summit County to know that she and her husband aren’t going away anytime soon.
Late this summer, the longtime operators of the Frisco Nordic Center and Breckenridge Nordic Center announced they were stepping back from day-to-day operations at the Frisco location to focus on Breckenridge. It has nothing to do with one trumping the other, said Therese Dayton, who, with her husband, has overseen just about everything that happens at both centers for nearly 50 years.
“For us, in our hearts, when you’re getting stuck with the behind-the-scenes and administrative work, people don’t see us and know what we do,” Therese said on Nov. 3, the first day of snowmaking at the Breckenridge center after a woefully warm October. “I’d love to be more a part of the nine-to-four Nordic center, but I haven’t been able to because I’m on the computer late into the night.”
Now, for the first time in decades, the Daytons get to kick back and relax — but only a little. After passing daily operations of the Frisco center to Jim Galanes, a fellow Summit local and former member of the U.S. Ski Team, the Daytons decided to focus wholeheartedly on the Breckenridge center and its signature community events: Nordic ski lessons, cross-country ski tours, the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center with the Breckebeiner 60K and the Summit Nordic Ski Club with the annual Summit County Nordic Ski Swap.
In the past, the ski swap was spread between the Frisco lodge and brand-new Breckenridge lodge. It was confusing for newcomers, Therese said, and even longtime ski swappers only dropped by the three-week event long a week or two after it started. This year’s event runs daily from Nov. 11 to Nov. 22 at the Breckenridge center and only the Breckenridge Nordic center, hopefully clearing up confusion and raising even more money for its benefactors: the local Nordic ski club and other youth programs.
In early November, when the main run at the Breckenridge center was still dry and brown, the Summit Daily News caught up with the Daytons to talk about passing the reigns at Frisco, the upcoming ski swap and why their family will be part of the local Nordic community for a long, long time.
Summit Daily News: Today is the first day of snowmaking for you at Breck. Are you nervous about the conditions?
Therese Dayton: The truth is, people have been excited about skiing since August. They might not have the weather for it, but they’ve been doing the biking and hiking and everything else they’ve been doing outdoors. There’s nothing wrong with this weather — we should just enjoy it.
SDN: This is you and Gene’s first season away from the Frisco Nordic center. How does it feel to focus on just Breckenridge?
TD: It’s a great transition. We want to make sure things go well with the client base and the trail systems that Gene has hand built, in many ways, with shovels and hand tools and all of that. We’ve maintained the Gold Rush (Nordic race in its 46th season) while we were there, and the town now has the right resources — departments that never existed before, like the recreation department and the tubing hill with snowmaking equipment — so this was a great time for us and for them.
But how does it feel? I’m just getting the first glimpses, but right now we’re only opening one ski area, where in the past we were doing two and even three areas. Right now we just have more time to focus on events.
SDN: Does that mean you’ll bring new events to the Breckenridge center this season?
TD: Yes, we’re doing more learn-to-ski programs. We’re also doing more guided trips with groups. Our lessons and the snowshoe trips are done with one to three people, and those will grow with the walking historic tours. We talk about everything: the flora, the fauna, the foxes, the moose, all of that. We’re right on the edge of the Cucmber Gulch preserve, the town-owned wetland teeming with wildlife, that is a huge benfit to us.
Gene Dayton: Cucumbers is incredible. It’s a true peat bog over 10,000 (vertical) feet, and it doesn’t happen like that anywhere else. It’s probably the most studied wetland in the country. It has to be monitored by biologists, but once there’s two feet of snow we can access the area.
TD: We call it Beaver Meadows. We have a special use permit for Peaks 6 and 7, and since that is more than 1,400 acres, we’re still working on a master plan for trails in the area.
GD: The master plan has been in place since we started, since 1996, and we’re just fine-tuning it.
TD: Yes, there are areas where we’re focusing on new trails for uphill-downhill events. The concept is to give people a way to break into ski racing without just entering a race to see how they do.
We also have huts on the trail that need daily maintenance. There’s Hallelujah Hut, which probably has the oldest mining history of any building in Breckenridge. It’s called the “retort house” — the place where miners would come to melt down their ore — and we redid that whole thing almost 16 years ago.
SDN: Talk about junior development programs and fundraising. How do you give back to the local Nordic community?
TD: The club has expanded to include seven to 10 coaches now, and that gives anyone — from youth to masters — an opportunity to really improve. It’s about being more hands on with everything we’re doing. You can end up in the office on a computer, and that’s necessary, but it’s not our first love. We’re trying to remember how Gene and I met. We had a Norwegian ski instructor who put on “Ski For Light,” an international program with national and regionals programs to help people with blindness and other disabilities get on skis. That’s how we met: I was coming to work with the BOEC and met him through that program. It’s about working with others, helping bring more people into Nordic skiing.
SDN: How did you go from Ski For Light to running two Nordic centers?
TD: Well, we had the permit here, in Breck, and we wanted a ski area that could move horizontally across the valley. We had a ski area at Whatley Ranch (now Red Tail Ranch), where we were developing trails around Gold Hill — it’s a big elk breeding area — and then hopped across to where the (Breckenridge) golf course is now. We were going to make it like European skiing, with grooming from Breckenridge to the golf course, then the golf course to gold hill, then from there to the Frisco center. We did a few races in the past that linked them all — the idea was to have restaurants and business connecting the Tenmile Range — but it’s not ideal to keep that going if you don’t have the rest facilities.
SDN: Summit might not have a connected Nordic system, but the Nordic community is still strong. How old is the ski swap this year?
TD: We started the swap because we were just a small segment of the county-wide system of skiing. That was a little before snowboarding. We realized then we weren’t getting our market, and that’s classic, skate, backcountry touring, and now snowshoe is a big segment of the market. This helps us focus on the backpacks and equipment we know well.
We do the children’s program, where someone can get a boot and come back to get a larger size when your child outgrows the gear in February. We do the same thing with everyone. If you want to go from classic to backcountry skiing, you can bring back the gear, get store credit and use that credit — that coupon — to upgrade your gear. We don’t charge to get into the swap or to sell your equipment. Some places do that, but here, we feel we have enough gear through rentals and our demo program and everything else. We try to have snow ready for the swap too, so people can get out on the gear.
SDN: Think the snow will be ready for the swap?
TD: We do grooming year-round. We groom in the summer to grow grass, because if you can mow the grass in the fall you have a better surface for the snow to compact. What we really need now is moisture, precipitation, and if we have these very warm days like we’ve been getting the base won’t be the best. It’ll melt from the top down. We’re just waiting on the weather.
SDN: What do you think sets the Breck center apart from other Nordic centers, either in Summit or anywhere else?
TD: We’re in the woods so much. It can be windy in town or on the mountain, but we’re heavily wooded with a legend forest. It’s not quite a true old-growth forest — it’s 50 years younger than the age they use for that designation — but we have these very thick woods, these enchanted forest woods, and kids really love that.
SDN: How did you and Gene get involved with youth programs and fundraisers?
TD: Gene always had a heart for youth and getting youth into the wilderness. He found there’s a lot of grant money for people with developmental disabilities, so for us, we feel it’s the same with sports or athletics — we can bring them together. If you can give children a lifetime sport before they turn 18 years old, it can really help them. That’s why our passion is for people and children.
SDN: After nearly five decades in Summit, what have you enjoyed about seeing the Nordic community grow?
TD: Each year, there’s a segment of the market that’s brand-new. The beauty of cross-country is that you can do this out your back door. We’d love to have people come in for lessons and training or anything else, to find the glide they need for the sport, but you can do it anywhere. That’s the heart of the sport — efficiency of glide. Over time it’s a great workout, but when you fine-tune that glide you just feel incredible.
I think the true joys of Nordic are getting into the backcountry, but you need those skills first. We have facilities, we have trained staff, we have rest huts, we have the right equipment, and we hope this gives people the opportunity to really get into the sport. The swap fits into that too, and this helps your child or anyone else who’s new stick with the right gear, the right size, so they enjoy the experience through the years. They can then join teams, get scholarships, travel to wonderful countries with beautiful people.
I’ve really enjoyed my opportunity to travel, and there are opportunities through sport to build character, experience — a different kind of learning. Not everyone learns the same way. The outdoors is a classroom. It’s where Gene got his start when he was studying for his master’s degree in outdoor education, when he was studying the growth of outdoor skiing. That’s how he discovered Nordic: no one out here was doing Nordic back then, other than some guys in the backcountry, and he wanted to get into it. He was dragging a track setter behind him back then, and he’s still out there checking the snowmaking guns to this day.
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