Take 5: Snow Hell and Nerd Rage of the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls
2016 Melee in the Mountains
What: A one-day roller derby tournament hosted by the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls, a local Eagle County team with three members (and hopefully more) from Summit County
When: Saturday, April 30 at 10 a.m.
Where: Eagle Pool and Ice Rink at 1700 Bull Pasture Road, Eagle 81631
Cost: $10 adults, free military and kids (5 and younger)
Four total teams from across the state will attend the tournament, including Ark Valley, Durango and Boulder Valley. Doors open at 10 a.m., followed by the first bout at 11 a.m. The championship round begins at 5 p.m. The team will charter a $15 party bus for spectators from Vail Transportation Center to Eagle on Saturday. For more info on the Roller Dolls or to purchase tickets, see the team website at www.10thmountainrollerdolls.com.
Snow Hell and Nerd Rage have spent a lot of time driving over Vail Pass this winter. Like hours and hours, in all conditions, from snow to sun to anything else the Interstate 70 corridor can throw at them, all in the name of perfecting the art of roller derby.
For the past two years, two times per week, Snow Hell (aka Noel Wheeler) and Rage (aka Jackie Culley) have made the three-hour round-trip trek from their homes in Summit County to the Eagle Ice Rink in the heart of Eagle County for practice with the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls, the one and only roller derby team found between Denver and Glenwood Springs.
At 5 years old, Roller Dolls continue to evolve and attract more women every season. The team now boasts 19 total players — nearly enough to launch a B squad for newcomers — who range in age from 24 years old to 47 years old. They’ve been invited to appear in the Vail Valley Charitable Fund’s annual Undressed calendar, and they’re coming off an undefeated season in 2014 before earning an invite to join the elite Women’s Flat Track Derby Association in 2015. They’re mothers, nurses, servers, students and, in Snow Hell’s case, an IT operations director for Chipotle. Better that than public relations right now.
But I digress. On a sunny Friday morning, I meet with 27-year-old Rage (Nerd Rage is a mouthful on the track) and 37-year-old Snow Hell to learn more about the wild, weird, women’s-only world of flat track roller derby. One thing is for sure: This sport has come light years from its early days as a WWF-backed venture for ladies. Today, thanks to groups like WFTDA, the game has rules and regulations to keep participants safe and give the game legitimacy. It’s a new world for roller derby: select games are broadcast on ESPN 3 and there’s even an All-Star team, including several skaters from Colorado.
And the Roller Dolls are looking for converts to build an unstoppable squad. Along with Black Mamba (aka Nina Waters), Rage and Snow Hell are the only Summit County locals on the team. As the team continues to grow it can use as much new blood as possible, and the local ladies are more than willing to share gas expenses with newbies. You might even leave with a nickname and a new family.
Never played? This weekend is the perfect time to get a taste for roller derby action when the Roller Dolls host the third-annual Melee in the Mountains, a round-robin tournament with three other teams from across the state.
Summit Daily News: One of the few things I know about roller derby is that skaters go by pretty cool nicknames. What are yours?
Jackie Culley: Nerd Rage.
Noel Wheeler: She’s totally a nerd, too. She plays video games and is into sci-fi and all that s***.
JC: But sometimes you get my jokes, and I love that.
NW: I love it too. She’s definitely a nerd. She’s the sort of peopr who finds something nerdy to ask people, like she’s screening them. If the person knows what she’s talking about they’ll be friends. And mine is Snow Hell, like this (turns around to show the name across the back of a vest).
SDN: I’ve got to hear the full stories. I kind of hear about Nerd Rage, but how did they come to be?
NW: Friends have always called me Snow Hell instead of Noel. I love the snow and outdoor activities, so it makes sense. The crazy thing about the nicknames, though, is we don’t even call people by their full nicknames. For her, we just call her Rage. On the track it’s too much to say, ‘Nerd Rage, she’s coming up on your left, I need a block.’ You just have to get it out fast, like, ‘Rage!’ and then I tap her on the shoulder and she knows where to go.
SDN: It reminds me of the dog I had as a kid. He was a purebred and his full name was Baron von Frickover, but I never called him anything but Frick. I don’t think anyone called him by the full name.
NW: That’s exactly what it is — it’s an AKC thing.
JC: Don’t compare us to dogs.
NW: Well, dogs are survivalists, we’re survivalists. They’re tough, we’re tough. It makes sense.
JC: They also run in packs!
NW: That’s exactly like us! We’re called packs when we’re on the track — even the refs call us packs. And it’s because we’re dogs, that’s totally what we are.
JC: No, we’re wolves. We’re fierce.
SDN: From what I’ve seen I’d say wolves. The only other thing I know about roller derby is that it’s a fantastic spectator sport with lots of action, but I’ve never been to a match. What can I expect at my first bout?
NW: People expect it to be the contact sport of the ‘70s and it’s not anymore. (Back then) it was owned by the guy who owns WWE — he had the rights to the name or something — and he turned roller derby into a thing where they were throwing elbows. Now, under WFTDA, there are rules and regulations. You do still see very good hits — there are legal zones where you can hit and you can’t hit — and it’s designed to keep people safe.
JC: The hits are more to get people off the track, or it’s just to be in someone’s way. It’s not to get hurt.
NW: Yes, that’s very important in this game, the ability to block other blockers.
JC: It’s one less person for the jammer (the skater who scores points) to fight against. Blockers go from defensive to offensive constantly.
SDN: Had either of you played roller derby before joining the Roller Dolls?
JC: I helped start a league in Reding, (Pennsylvania) where I’m from, and then when I moved here I joined a team in Denver because I didn’t know about this (the Roller Dolls). When you’re going to Denver, they have such a large league that it was hard to meet people. They’re all living in the city and I’m making the commute, and if I’m going to drive anyway I wanted to be up here in the mountains, where I can meet people who also live here in the mountains. I just called her (Noel) up and said, ‘I’d love to play.’ She told me she’d drive the first couple of times to suck me in.
NW: It’s just a different experience. The Denver league has been around for a long time and so it’s very competitive to get playtime. Our league is competitive, but it’s not like that. It’s awesome to play with these girls and it’s an incredible experience to play in Colorado, and we still travel to Denver or drive to New Mexico and places for bouts. You get to see these girls on the American All-Star team and it’s incredible.
SDN: What made you decide to join a team based an hour-and-a-half away in Eagle?
JC: Well, I always liked roller-skating as a kid. I was the dork who had roller-skating birthday parties when I was a kid.
NW: Those are the best.
JC: We actually had a teammate who just had one.
SDN: Who is that?
NW: Vicious Kitty. She has them every year.
SDN: But like you were saying, you’ve always had a soft spot for roller-skating?
JC: I wasn’t really into team sports in high school so this was something different to use as an outlet. It was also to get in shape and this has really helped with that. You meet similar friends with similar interested. There’s camaraderie like none other.
NW: The weird thing about roller derby is it puts you in touch with people you might not have met otherwise.
JC: Some of them will come to ski here, or we’ll go to Beaver Creek.
NW: It’s also a support thing. I’ve personally had some medical things, and through it all my team has been very supportive and helpful. Without derby I don’t think I would have gotten that. We’re teammates in every sense of the word. I don’t want to say it’s like high school, but they become your people. A lot of us are moms and it’s a sacrifice to take the time away from your kids, but you’re committed to meeting up twice a week for practice and then drive to games all over the place.
SDN: Noel, you were telling me that lots of moms skate. You even had your child three year ago when you were still playing roller derby.
NW: Yes, even when I couldn’t skate I was coaching and announcing. It was my main goal to give back and then get back to the sport, so I had the post-delivery checkup and was back on my skates six weeks later. Like I said, these are my people.
SDN: What do you enjoy most about playing the game, those times when you’re on the track and in the thick of things?
JC: I think learning different strategies from playing other teams. You have to adapt how you’re playing on the fly if something isn’t working. The competition is cool and the sportsmanship is just great. Whoever wins or loses, we always get together and have a bomb after-party somewhere.
NW: You might have taken a super gnarly hit from someone, and when you get off the track after a jam (term for scoring play) they’ll come up, give you a hug and say, “You took that so well!”
I also like the transition: how it has transitioned for me from the time I started playing. Right now, the game is about teamwork and trust for me and those are important lessons I can bring to other areas of life. I think it’s made me a better boss.
SDN: Talk about travel. How far do you go for bouts?
NW: We play a fair amount with the Front Range — Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, the Denver league — so when we have those games you can go down and back in the same day, but we can turn so many of these into weekends. It’s super fun. One of our teammate’s husbands is in a band so he has a travel van, a 13-seat van, and we all get together in there. It’s reminiscent of getting together in college for a road trip. You just get to be crazy and silly and funny, making fun of each other for what you buy at the store.
JC: yeah, I really don’t mind the travel. It’s fun. It’s a chance to be around people you’re only around for two hours on the track, when you’re concentrating on skating. It’s just a way to bond outside of the game.
SDN: This is the third-annual Melee in the Mountains. Is this considered the official start to the season?
JC: Yeah, it’s our home opener. We started in Fort Collins with a win. We’re undefeated so far this season. I’m just excited to see how many fans we can get out there, people who are interested in roller derby and interested in seeing us kick a** all season. The tournament environment is just exciting.
NW: It is. You play more than one game in the day, so you have the chance to play one bout and then watch the next. You learn more about the sport, just like any sport, and you also get to learn about the team you’re about to play. You scout them.
JC: You watch, see their strategy and know, ‘Yes, we can do this to counter that.”
NW: They were creaming us on that this time. When we see them next, we’ll get back at them.
JC: It also feels like roller derby is getting more popular. You have skaters from Team USA who go around to teach clinics now.
SDN: What’s the latest skill you’ve learned on skates?
JC: Lots and lots of practice skating helps. You get to learn quickly what your strengths and weaknesses are.
NW: You also get to learn about your teammates. Like, I can see someone coming up the lane next to me, tap Rage on the back and she knows where to go. People always ask, ‘Why are you yelling those numbers?’ And it’s because we’re yelling out the lane numbers so that the blockers know where to go.
JC: You have girls skating forward and backward depending on what’s happening. You want to stay in the pack, but the people skating backward are usually looking to see what everything is like. It seems a little confusing when you just talk about it. You have to watch.
NW: But even when you know what’s going on it can be confusing. Even Jamie (her partner) gets excited when he sees something he never saw before and he’s been watching since the start. He’s supported me since the start. He was there when I bought my first pair of skates five years ago, thinking I would be going to Denver just to play. I got together with some friends and made it a mission to find the Roller Dolls, and the rest is history.
JC: And I’m so glad you did.
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