| AspenTimes.com

Handle with care: Federica Brignone’s three FIS crystal globes come in the mail

ROME — The package that Italian skier Federica Brignone anxiously awaited while in isolation wasn’t from Amazon or the local supermarket.

Amid a worldwide suspension of sporting events because of the coronavirus pandemic, the heavy trunk held something every bit as precious: trophies honoring a season full of racing and emotions.

The special delivery late last month included three crystal globes: the big 9-kilogram (20-pound) prize for her first overall World Cup title — she’s the first Italian woman to win the coveted honor in the 53-year history of the competition — plus two smaller globes for her season-long giant slalom and Alpine combined titles.

The trophies were delivered to Brignone’s parents’ house because her own home lies further up the mountainous road in the Valle d’Aosta town where couriers usually don’t go.

“So my brother sent me a photo with the trophies and saying, ‘Oh, are they yours? Did you order them?’ Then I brought them to my house,” Brignone said in a video interview with The Associated Press from her living room.

For the record, Brignone did not feel the need to disinfect the trophies.

“They were in a box, I don’t know how many days, so not a problem,” she said after getting the big globe out of the case to display for the interview.

Brignone clinched the overall title when the circuit was cut short because of the virus — preventing a possible comeback from American rival Mikaela Shiffrin.

Shiffrin was preparing to return from a six-week break following the death of her father when the last races still on the schedule in Are, Sweden, were also called off because of COVID-19.

“It was not good what happened to her. But we also raced 30 races. They cut nine races for all my competitors but also for me,” Brignone said. “I was skiing really good at the end of the season. I was training really hard in Are. I was skiing fast. I really wanted to end this season in a better way.”

After the Are cancellation, the International Ski Federation said it would arrange for “the globes’ distribution and appropriate presentation opportunities to recognize the athletes achievements, once the coronavirus crisis has passed.”

Brignone can’t wait for the day when she can celebrate officially with her teammates, coaches and fans — and hear the Italian anthem played in her honor.

That might mean a summer ceremony at the headquarters of the Italian Winter Sports Federation in Milan, something similar at FIS offices in Switzerland, or she might have to wait until the opening race of next season in Sölden, Austria.

“Sooner is the best. If it’s next year you’re already focusing on the next season so I think it will be too late,” she said while drinking her post-lunch espresso. “But better than nothing.”

Either way, Brignone is planning an extensive celebration in her home village of La Salle.

“We have time now to organize it,” she said. “It’s going to be for everybody.”

The party won’t be too wild, though, because Brignone comes from a family of athletes and her parents don’t drink.

The night that Brignone arrived home from Are, she celebrated simply with a family dinner. Her younger brother, Davide, is also her coach, and her mother, Maria “Ninna” Rosa Quario, was a World Cup skier who won four races on the circuit from 1979-83.

“Me and my family, we’re passionate about skiing and sports. Just seeing this trophy and seeing this trophy (in) my hands and their hands, it’s like a celebration for us,” she said.

As her family well understands, Brignone’s season was truly extraordinary. She won five races in three different disciplines and registered 11 podium results across four different types of events: giant slalom, super-G, downhill and combined.

It was the type of all-around success that propelled Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn to the overall title in recent years.

Like her more successful American counterparts, Brignone is a marketable personality. Besides her native Italian, she also speaks fluent French and English, plus some German.

Already well known in Italy, Brignone’s overall title served as a source of inspiration at a time when the spread of the virus was near its peak in the country. Medical workers at a hospital in Piacenza were so moved that they took time away from their urgent care of infected patients to write Brignone a letter of appreciation.

“It was the only positive thing for them,” said Brignone, whose written response to the medical workers was posted inside the hospital. “They are really doing a lot of work. We have to say, ‘Thank you.’ All Italians have to say, ‘Thank you,’ to all the doctors and nurses.”

The next challenge for the 29-year-old Brignone will be backing up her success on the World Cup circuit and seeking a gold medal at next year’s world championships on home snow in Cortina d’Ampezzo and at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

While Brignone won silver in giant slalom at the 2011 worlds and bronze in GS at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, she has never stood atop the podium at a major championship.

Still, Brignone said she had already realized all of her childhood dreams by winning the overall title and medals at worlds and Olympics.

“I’m still really motivated and I want more,” she said. “But in some way I’m also free in that everything that will come, it’s going to be a plus and I can just enjoy it and be happy about my career already.”

Norwegian Olympian Trygve Berge reflects on founding of Breck ski area

BRECKENRIDGE — From his studio apartment in downtown Breckenridge, near where the Lower Four O’Clock ski run meets pavement, Trygve Berge looks out at Breckenridge Ski Resort.

It’s one of the world’s most popular ski destinations. And it also happens to be a playground that many Summit County locals believe wouldn’t exist as it does without the input of the 1956 Norwegian Olympic skier — the forefather of modern Breckenridge and a former farm boy from Voss, Norway.

Seven decades after he and his family survived Nazi occupation and a half-century after he had the aha moment that the Tenmile Range could become a ski area, Berge, 87, is still a Breckenridge local. After he has his cup of coffee and doughnut in the morning, Berge will walk up and down the town’s steep streets to “get my pump going,” as he says, before meeting up with friends. On days where he can go ski the mountain, about 10 days this past winter, he describes the snow as “the best in the world.” Heck, last June, he wore sunglasses and a white, purple and teal retro ski get-up while riding Peak 7’s spring slush.

Along with fellow Breckenridge Ski Resort co-founders Sigurd Rockne and Bill Rounds, Berge is the man who put Breckenridge on the map. He’s the man who was the guiding force in laying out the ski runs off, say, the Colorado SuperChair. And when you consider his success as a Norwegian championship and Olympic Alpine skier and his years of community impact instructing thousands in the ski school at Breckenridge, he’s the Alpine skiing winner of the Summit Daily’s Peak Performers contest.

“I always felt that this was my home,” Berge said recently, a month shy of his 88th birthday.

Long before Berge — and fellow 1956 Norwegian Olympic Alpine skier Rockne — laid out the first runs on Peak 8, he dreamed of being an architect. As a child, Berge was an accomplished gymnast in Norway, a talent that aided his ski skills, which came on ski jumps and cross-country courses.

Berge was 8 years old when the Nazi occupation began. Berge and other neighborhood Norwegians weren’t permitted to gather to ski or do most anything else, including attend church. Still, when not working on the family farm, the young Berge would sometimes ski tour to visit neighbors, keeping the passion alive.

After the occupation concluded, Berge essentially stumbled on the Alpine version of skiing, winning his first race through gates.

“I walked over to the mountain that morning, hadn’t seen these people, and this lady said, ‘Why don’t you ski through it and see how you’re doing,’” Berge said. “So I skied through it, and I won my class, and that was the end of it.”

Once the gymnast-turned-downhill skier realized his potential, he put his architecture dreams on hold and moved to Oslo, where many of the country’s best Alpine skiers were located. He won the Norwegian downhill national championship a couple of years later in 1956, the same year the then-23-year-old DQ’d in the Cortina d’Ampezzo Olympic downhill after he lost a ski mid-race.

It was during this time that Berge grew close with the man he said was his best ski instructor, Norwegian Olympic medalist and skiing’s first superstar Stein Eriksen.

“I ski more like Stein than Stein does,” Berge said with a laugh.

Berge followed Stein to the United States, which eventually led him to Breckenridge. On the lookout for areas with good slopes and exposure to the sun, Berge said the first time he laid eyes on the Tenmile Range, he knew a ski area was a must.

After the Peak 8 Ski Area, as it was originally called, opened in December of 1961, Berge, along with Rockne, taught the Peak 8 Ski School for the next decade. As Peak 8 Ski Area, and eventually Breckenridge Ski Area, grew in the ensuing years, Berge and Rockne went to consumer shows in places like Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis to promote skiing. In one case, in Milwaukee, Berge showed off his fabled gymnastics-inspired somersaults on ice atop a ramp sprayed by a local brewery. In another favorite memory, Berge skied atop hairbrush-like plastic bristles at one of President Richard Nixon’s inaugurations.

As ski area ownership evolved and as his role at Breckenridge changed, Berge remained a Breckenridge local. He helped teach future freestyle ski stars like Scott Rawles, who once worked at Berge’s ski shop near Ski Hill Road.

As Berge skis into his ninth decade on snow, he still has the Peggy Fleming-like grace he prided himself on for so many years. If he were to chose one final run at Breckenridge, it would be off the Imperial Express SuperChair and down into Upper Four O’Clock, Mach One and eventually Sawmill — the heart of the Peak 8, 9 and 10 terrain he eyed to ski all those years ago.

Home in his apartment amid the coronavirus pandemic, Berge laughs about how he’s been “doing the elbow thing” with people around town during his daily walks rather than shaking hands. Reflecting on his life, Berge says he hopes he’s known as a guy who was always out there, doing his best with whatever he had.

Berge explains how in Norwegian “Trygve” means “trust” and “Berge” is the derivative of “mountain” or “cliff.”

In a way, beginning in 1961, Breckenridge trusted its mountain to Berge. And for that, he’s thankful.

“Breckenridge is a place that you call home, while Aspen or Vail isn’t,” Berge said. “You can live there, but it doesn’t feel like home. Not to me, anyway.”

aolivero@summitdaily.com

Breck freestyle pioneer Keri Herman talks about career, from hockey to X Games

DILLON — After longtime Breckenridge local Keri Herman won the 2007 Aspen Freeskiing Open, the only major freeski competition for women at the time, the mother of Carbondale pro skier Meg Olenick had a question for the Bloomington, Minnesota, native.

“Who are you, and where did you come from?” Olenick’s mother asked Herman, then 24 years old.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know. I’m a hockey player, but I’m skiing today,’” Herman recalled saying.

The truth was, Herman was a Minnesota hockey star turned Breckenridge park rat who shocked the small, tight-knit freeski world on that fateful day at Buttermilk in 2007. Reflecting on how her life evolved from a heart for hockey, to studying to work in pantsuits on Wall Street, to Breckenridge ski bum, Herman said it all really fell into her lap.

After a successful youth hockey career where she played on trailblazing all-girls hockey teams in Minnesota, Herman moved to Denver for college having really skied only on spring break trips. Throughout college, she went from being someone who skied a few days to pay off her pass to someone who fell in love with the sport after she stumbled across a terrain park at Beaver Creek Resort.

“I accidentally went through the park and was like, ‘What is this?’” Herman said. “And there was no turning back.”

Two decades later, Herman is remembered in Summit County and globally as one of the female freeskiers who laid the foundation for the opportunities so many young women have today. The 2014 Olympian won several gold medals at U.S. Grand Prix World Cup events, five silver medals at X Games and four medals at Dew Tour, including her crowning achievement on home snow at the 2014 Dew Tour at Breckenridge Ski Resort when so many told her she was too old to keep competing after losing several sponsors.

Still a Breckenridge local who loves skiing as many days as she can each season, Herman is the freestyle skiing winner of the Summit Daily’s Peak Performers project, which honors the greatest athletes and most influential figures in Summit county ski and snowboard history.

Receiving the highest total of the freestyle fan vote, Herman edged out accomplished Summit County freeski figures such as runner-up Chris Hawks, moguls legend Scott Rawles and slopestyle and big air champion Bobby Brown for the honor. At the strength of Herman’s legacy is a driven attitude and trailblazing path she set for other female freeskiers.

But for Herman, that legacy was supposed to be on the ice — not the snow. The member of a hard-working hockey family, Herman played on all-girls teams that were so good they were kicked out of boys leagues because they won too much.

Her zest for competition and drive to always learn more aided Herman once she stumbled upon that Beaver Creek terrain park. Eventually finding her way to Breckenridge in 2003, Herman took to the slopes the edge control, athleticism and I’ll-prove-you-wrong attitude she had in hockey.

“I was so determined to learn things,” she said. “I could hike a rail all day until I learned it, and it was just no big deal.”

The former finance and marketing major at Denver University said she found her people at Breckenridge’s Freeway terrain park. They were the friends she’d work with in the deli at City Market in Breckenridge, one of many jobs Herman had through the years to make the ski-bum lifestyle work. On most every day before she’d go into her job at City Market or Christy Sports or Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., among other gigs, Herman and the park-rat tribe at Breck would be out there cheering each other on to try to progress their skills, feeling more like camaraderie than competition.

“You know that music video by Blind Melon, ‘No Rain’?” Herman asked. “That bumble bee that felt lonely by herself? That was me in Denver. So moving here, I found all of my bumble bees. … We were living in a house in Warrior’s Mark with 10 people, sharing rooms. People were sleeping on the couches, floors, tables. We just squeezed everybody in to make rent as cheap as possible. We couldn’t afford TV. We could barely afford heat. We all slept in our ski clothes and just survived.”

Little did Herman know the skills her friends helped her learn on the big Freeway jumps would seamlessly transition once a representative from Spyder sponsored her and got her contest career rolling. It was a career, Herman said, that culminated after the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Around the time of the Olympics, Herman said people in the ski industry began telling her she was too old to keep competing. By the time the 2014 Dew Tour rolled around, she’d lost sponsors and was doubted. That’s why the win at Dew Tour on the Freeway jumps she was so familiar with and the silver medal a month later at X Games Aspen meant so much.

“I was like, ‘You know what? Screw you,’” Herman said. “You are not here, just because of your insecurities, to tell me I should be insecure about my ability and what I’m doing. And those wins with no backing, hardly, I am most proud of. It’s like, ‘You know what? Stop telling any kind of person that this isn’t for them. Or they are too old to do this, too old to do that.’”

The win at Dew Tour also bookended the journey women’s freeskiing had gone on, how far it’d come since Herman’s first podium at Dew Tour when her winnings consisted of a lunch box with shampoo and conditioner.

Though her competitive career has wound down due to chronic leg injuries, including a partial femur replacement, the 37-year-old is at peace with her ski journey. Her goal, ultimately, is longevity. If she can do switch 540s for the rest of her life, that’d be sweet.

Her larger focus, though, is ensuring women, young and old, are never discouraged from attempting what they know is possible.

“I’m inspired by them because they are paving their own path, trying to do things for themselves,” Herman said. “If you know you can do it, you can do it.”

aolivero@summitdaily.com

CPW: Fishing, hunting seasons are not canceled despite rumors, coronavirus

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Over the past few days, Colorado Parks and Wildlife have been alerted to fraudulent calls and false social media posts claiming that hunting and fishing seasons are canceled. Other claims included licenses not being valid or required. Whether these claims were centered around April Fools or not, they are false.

CPW hasn’t canceled or altered anything relating to hunting or fishing seasons.

“It’s funny because some people said, ‘Oh it’s just April Fools stuff, and there’s probably some element of that, but the interesting thing is it’s been happening in other states for several weeks,” said Randy Hampton, public information officer for the Northwest Region of CPW.

Hampton said there have been a few theories about why someone would try to convince others the seasons are canceled, such as a selfish individual hoping to deter other anglers and have more open space for themselves.

Some callers were more serious, looking to acquire personal information. CPW encourages people to never share personal information with anyone claiming to provide CPW refunds.

Gov. Jared Polis’ stay-at-home order still allows people to get outside and recreate, including hunting and fishing. Coloradans still need a fishing or hunting license, which can be purchased at CPW’s website.

“It’s kind of hard to get too close to people when you’re fishing. You don’t want to hook any of your buddies,” Hampton said. “Fishing has always been better socially distanced. Fishing is a good, healthy, outdoor activity. People should continue to stay healthy.”

The deadline to apply for a big game license is 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 7. No changes to the process have been made.

“That’s moving ahead,” Hampton said. “We have no intention of delaying that at this point. We encourage people to apply early.”

Hunters and anglers shouldn’t travel far, though. Travel means people will be going to gas stations and stores elsewhere around the state, which is not advised. Travel should be limited, even if it is in regards to approved recreation.

With that in mind, if turkey license holders got a license for a unit relatively far from where they are sheltered in place, they can return it with no processing fee for a full refund.

“We have had some concern raised by eastern, plains counties saying, ‘Well are people going to be coming in here? What does that mean if they’re in the gas station, if they’re in the store?’” Hampton said.

CPW is waiving the four-day minimum requirement for hunters to return their licenses. Also, CPW will issue a restoration of turkey preference points used to draw a license upon return, as long as they are postmarked before the start of the season April 11.

If there are any changes made to its operations, CPW will use social media and its official website to alert the public. All COVID-19 related information has been consolidated to one page. While offices are closed, staff members are still answering the phone during altered business hours to answer questions and address concerns.

sreardon@steamboatpilot.com

Clubhouse Chronicles: The persistence of positivity through difficult times

Happiness is an inherent trait of skiing, but to the competitive skier, disappointment also is a familiar feeling. It is an interesting dichotomy: ski for happiness, but be prepared for sadness. Throughout this cycle, athletes learn what it means to commit to a passion, developing grit and resilience along the way.

A couple of weeks ago, I had to explain to the athletes that there would be no more competitive skiing for the remainder of the year. This was at 7 a.m., the morning after we made the drive to Snowbird, Utah, and two hours before we’d be unexpectedly making that drive once again. You would think the kids would be crushed, but you don’t know them like I know them.

Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s freeride team had 10 athletes in contention for the top spots in North America. We’ve all worked incredibly hard to establish AVSC as a premier freeride team and more importantly, build a strong and supportive group of friends. And at 7 a.m. that morning, the athletes — and friends — trusted the coaches that everything was going to be OK.

As the team came to terms with our new objective, we slowly packed up all the stuff we had unpacked just hours before and took solace in the fact that we were together, because you’re often the best version of yourself when you’re with teammates.

Instead of adopting a calamity-type mentality, we took a second to enjoy the beauty and environment around us before we piled in the van and drove straight back to Aspen. Often when you live in the mountains, you take them for granted. You forget about the millions of people who have never set eyes on a majestic peak like Mount Superior. You forget that people save money their entire lives just to take a trip to see the beautiful Wasatch Mountain Range, the majestic Moab desert, the mighty Colorado River, and the regal Elk Mountains. We took a short hike, just the energy reset we needed.

Former AVSC freeride coach Chason Russell introduced what is called an “energy laser” to the team prior to my time here. It is a tradition we carry on with great pride. On any given day when we need to insert positivity into the environment, we form a circle (sometimes 50-plus people). We gather closely and, from the ground (or snow) up, collectively drive energy through our poles, tapping them together while bellowing all the positivity we can channel until we rise up, blasting our poles upward and driving positive energy into the universe in the process.

On that morning, for one last time this season, we united in a circle and launched positivity into the universe before driving home. Today, remember that although the lifts aren’t spinning and things feel different, love and positivity still reverberate throughout this world.

Clubhouse Chronicles is a behind-the-scenes column written by the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club that runs periodically in the Outdoors and Sports sections.

Colbert’s Prep Playbook: Scenarios for spring season after suspension extended

The spring high school sports season looks all but done. The Colorado High School Activities Association announced Wednesday it had extended its suspension of prep activities until at least April 30, keeping it in line with mandatory school closings and social distancing protocols put in place by Gov. Jared Polis.

Outside of one lone tournament by the Aspen High School girls golf team last month, the spring sports season never even got off the ground here in the upper Roaring Fork Valley before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the state and shut it down.

A final answer on the season will likely come sooner than later. In the meantime, here are some options CHSAA might have to choose from in a spontaneous edition of my Prep Playbook column:

MOST LIKELY

The only realistic option will be to cancel the season. And frankly, with the continued closures put in place by our governor, the choice may ultimately be out of CHSAA’s hands.

Saying it’s a bummer, especially for the seniors who may never compete again, is an understatement. There won’t be any more practices, any senior nights, any state tournaments.

It’s a pessimistic outlook, but it’s reality with this coronavirus taking its toll. Canceling the season also remains the right choice with human lives at stake.

POSSIBLE, BUT UNLIKELY

Maybe, just maybe, the skies clear and life returns to normal by the beginning of May. This would give us a short window to hold a very short season. Most state tournaments are slated for mid May and beyond, so something could be figured out.

A complete regular season is out of the question here, but there could still be a way to crown a state champion or two with an incredibly abbreviated regular season. We just need a week’s worth of games to figure out some playoff scenarios, or a single track meet to determine who qualifies for the state meet.

POSSIBLE, BUT STILL UNLIKELY

Many have suggested we push the spring sports season into the summer when the worst is behind us. With this approach, we could still hold a mostly complete regular season and crown some champions in June or July.

Yes, this may be possible, but there may be too many hurdles to overcome. Plus, after graduation, many kids will scatter and move on with their lives. That is, if COVID-19 lets them leave their houses anytime soon. With so many summer sporting events already being called off, this all seems like wishful thinking.

NOT GOING TO HAPPEN

Since we’re talking hypotheticals that probably won’t happen, here’s one for you. For most sports, the big issue would be the lack of a regular season, which determines who makes the postseason. Well, how about we skip the regular season and let everyone into the postseason?

We could, for example, just take all 60-plus girls soccer teams in Class 3A and plug them into one giant single-elimination tournament. Everyone gets to play at least one game this season and a champion is ultimately crowned. Seeding can be done at random, which would make for one entertaining show. No, this won’t happen, but it sure would be fun.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Swirbul finds perspective after busy World Cup season, is all in on Olympic push

The biggest takeaway from the season for Hailey Swirbul was about perspective. Whether it meant making the repetitive European breakfasts more enjoyable or being a better teammate, there was something to be gained from not focusing on the greater successes.

“The most important thing I learned throughout this whole year is to focus on the small victories. I’ve been thinking about this a lot actually, because it’s really easy to get caught up in a big result,” Swirbul said. “It’s easy to lose perspective about the small victories and the small motivations along the way and wondering why you’re not winning world juniors, like some of these people around us are. I think that was really important for me and I was able to focus on something small.”

Swirbul, a 2016 Basalt High School graduate, recently wrapped up her second season with the U.S. cross-country ski team. The 2019-20 winter came with a lot more challenges, including many more World Cup starts. Swirbul started four World Cup races in her rookie campaign last winter, three coming in the Quebec finals.

This winter, she added 10 more World Cup starts to her name, including her first points. The very first point came when she finished 30th in a sprint in Davos, Switzerland, a day she said she “will remember forever.”

The extra grind also meant even more time in Europe, and she wasn’t overly disappointed when the tail end of the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It honestly has been a long season. I have never started the season so early, like as early as I did this year … I was kind of ready for some play time,” Swirbul said. “It’s definitely an adjustment. I think it was a more stressful year than I really realized. Just figuring out how everything works and the dynamic and the lifestyle.”

Overall, the results and experience Swirbul gained this winter show a productive season for the 21-year-old distance specialist. She finished 77th in the overall women’s World Cup standings with 24 points, 17 of those coming in distance events.

She also won three races at the U.S. national championships in Michigan back in January, and had a strong showing at the U23 World Ski Championships in early March in Oberwiesenthal, Germany.

“It was different to go into U23’s this year after being on the World Cup most of the year, because I had a different perspective on how intense it was,” Swirbul said. “It changed the dynamic of the races for me there, but I’m happy with my efforts.”

At U23, Swirbul’s highlight was a seventh-place finish in the 10-kilometer classic, as well as a fifth-place finish in a mixed team relay.

“Hailey was on the road a bunch with us this winter, which was really fun for me,” said Sophie Caldwell, who led the U.S. women by finishing sixth in the season-long sprint standings. “I knew Hailey a little, but hadn’t gotten to really spend too much time with her on the road, so I feel I got to know her quite a bit better this year and I really enjoy her as both a person and a skier. So it was a blast for me to have that whole crew of girls on the road.”

Caldwell — who is married to Aspen’s Simi Hamilton, a three-time Olympian on the men’s side — has twice represented the U.S. at the Winter Games. A return to a third Olympics is up in the air, but she’s among the veteran skiers who could help get someone like Swirbul to her first.

Swirbul’s first two seasons on the World Cup stage came at a good time, as this season especially was arguably the easiest in the four-year Olympic cycle. Next season the world championships return, with the shadow of the 2022 Olympics in Beijing becoming ever present.

Swirbul has both events firmly on her radar.

“I’m not trying to do this as a sprint. I’m hoping to be in it for the long run and if I want to do that I need to make sure it’s sustainable for me,” Swirbul said of her skiing career. “Definitely the Olympics is a big focus and I’m in it 100% until then and hopefully beyond. But I don’t know, it’s such a demanding sport and lifestyle that it’s something you have to reevaluate year to year.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Steamboat skier nearly helps Denver to title before championships canceled

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The world will never know if the University of Denver would have won the 2020 NCAA ski championship, but man, did it come close.

Led by some extremely talented skiers, Denver came away with a second-place finish and three individual national titles from four completed events before the championships in Bozeman, Montana, were canceled due to COVID-19.

“I was pretty upset. I think most competitors were,” said DU junior and Steamboat Springs native Jett Seymour. “We like to finish everything we start and see it through. Having an unknown or an asterisk by that championship just doesn’t seem right, but we also understand that it’s what’s happening right now. … They probably made the right call to take preventative measures.”

While it was the right call, it’s left Denver coaches and athletes wondering what could have happened.

“From a coach’s side, I’ve never seen such a strong team so well prepared with the conditions we had out there, along with our nordic team,” said DU alpine head coach Andy Leroy.

On the first day of competition, a pair of Pioneers walked away with giant slalom national titles. Senior Storm Klomhaus out of Boulder won the women’s competition, while junior Tobias Kogler of Austria was the victor on the men’s side. Narrowly missing the top 10 and All-American status, Seymour finished 12th in the giant slalom race. After one day, Denver was the No. 1 team in the standings.

The next day, Denver skier Eveliina Piippo won the women’s 5-kilometer freestyle race. However, the University of Utah had an excellent Nordic team, giving them the No. 1 spot in the team standings after day two.

Before the slalom and classic races, the NCAA decided to cancel the remainder of the championships. So, the Pioneers will forever sit in second with 261 points, while Utah is frozen in first with 293.

With such a strong slalom squad, Leroy was hesitant to say an event sweep would have been certain, but it was likely.

“I do wonder what that team would have looked like at that slalom championship because we were skiing so much better than everybody else,” he said. “We had so many strong athletes. It would have been interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever brought a team that was capable of sweeping both events.”

Seymour was the defending national champion in men’s slalom, picking up the only title for a Pioneer skier in 2019.

The 2020 slalom team was a different beast, though. At the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association West Regional Championships, the Denver women swept the podium in slalom. Amelia Smart was the victor, as teammates Klomhaus and Katie Hensien earned second and third, respectively.

On the men’s side, Kogler won, while Simon Fournier finished third. Seymour took 22nd but was still confident he could potentially repeat as national champion. Cole Puckett, another Steamboat athlete, earned eighth in the men’s slalom at the West Regional Championships. Complete domination gave Denver the West Regional victory ahead of nationals.

Of course, there really is no way of telling how things would have shook out if the national competition continued. The Utah Nordic team’s performance in the final classic race could have very well earned the school its second straight title. Then again, maybe Denver could have kept the streak of winning every other year since 2014.

“I am confident we would have been competitive,” Seymour said. “Stuff would have had to go right, so there’s no saying how we would have done. Most athletes are thankful we ended the season healthy even if it was an abrupt ending.”

Fortunately for him, Seymour has one more year to prove what he can do. For eight seniors, including Steamboat’s own Evan Barbier and Serina Kidd, 2020 was the year for one last team national title.

Still, the Denver ski team has a lot to be proud of, and Seymour hopes the seniors can take solace in that.

“Out of the four races that were held, DU was able to take home three national titles out of four,” Seymour said. “Those are the only four national titles that will be awarded in 2020.”

sreardon@steamboatpilot.com

Weather, virus force Aspen’s Eric Sullivan to postpone Nolan’s 14 ski attempt

After weather forced an initial postponement, Eric Sullivan was regrouped and ready to dive into the Nolan’s 14 route beginning Monday. But he had a last second change of heart amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the statewide stay-at-home order.

“I didn’t want to leave anybody with a bad taste in their mouth,” Sullivan said Saturday. “I had to make the tough call, but I think people will respect it.”

The Aspen endurance athlete, who goes by Sully, was hoping to ski the Nolan’s 14 route, a series of fourteeners in the Sawatch Range from Leadville down toward Salida. It’s considered to be an incredibly challenging feat, with only a handful of people having completed it during the summer, including Aspen’s Ted Mahon.

Prior to his initial start date on March 13, Sullivan believed no one had ever completed the course on skis. However, he’s since pointed out there are at least two known finishers in the Leadville husband and wife duo of Rohan and Anna Lauer Roy, who skied the 14 mountains over 14 days in 2014.

Sullivan was hoping to complete it in around 100 hours and do it without a support crew, a change from his original idea to have help along the way.

He delayed his original trip two weeks ago because of recent storms and dangerous avalanche conditions. The new coronavirus then put an end to his second attempt this coming week. He had planned to go solo, which would certainly adhere to the social distancing practices that are in place, but he didn’t want to put any added pressure on first responders should an issue arise and decided to call it off.

“I’ll at least wait until the quarantine is done, but then who knows what the conditions will be like and how long it will take,” Sullivan said. “So it’s on the backburner, but everything is ready to go if need be. But it’s been nice. I’ve just been able to shut the brain off and relax the last couple of days.”

Should the Nolan’s 14 attempt not come to fruition this season, Sullivan said he’s far from done with it. It’ll be something on his mind until he’s able to give it a realistic go, whether that be in the coming months or next winter.

“I’ll never quit dreaming about it until I get it done,” Sullivan said. “A lot of people can run 100 milers and stuff like that, but to just finish this thing is a huge task and it’s just medieval. There is no easy way around it. It’s all in your face all the time.”

On top of delivering orders for Big Wrap in Aspen, Sullivan is a local coach who specializes in mountain adventures and endurance endeavors. He’s spending his free time working on expanding his business to different clientele.

A devoted mountain biker, Sullivan has turned his sights on taking part in the 500-mile Colorado Trail Race this summer, should it happen.

He said his sponsors have been understanding of the situation regarding the delayed Nolan’s 14 attempt.

“They were all very respectful of my choice. They thought it was a good call. I didn’t want them to think I was bailing out on trying or anything, so they understood,” Sullivan said. “I’ll just focus on something else. There is plenty of stuff to do.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Play through, but keep your distance: Some Glenwood-area golf courses play on

Several Garfield County golf courses are making the call to proceed with their planned season openings, but with precautions in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Golf courses were not specifically listed among “non-essential” businesses that were required to close under the most recent public health orders from the state of Colorado.

And, given the allowance for people to recreate outdoors as long as they practice social-distancing protocols, golf courses that have already opened for the season have proven popular destinations.

“It was kind of a gray area, is how I would describe it,” acknowledged Zac Sutherland, operations section chief for the Garfield County COVID-19 command staff.

Initially, when Gov. Jared Polis issued the state’s stay-at-home order on March 25, an AP report indicated golf courses, along with outdoor basketball courts and tennis courts, would fall under the mandatory closures.

But the order itself didn’t specifically mention those facilities, leaving it up to local jurisdictions to make that determination.

Some municipalities have since closed playgrounds, along with public basketball courts, tennis courts and other outdoor sports facilities. Others, including the city of Denver, have closed golf courses.

Since most golf courses are private entities, operators have been working with local public health officials to enact safety protocols if they decide to remain open.

“What we were left to do is come up with a way to say golf courses can open, but they need to maintain those safe distance guidelines and take other precautions (to protect public health),” Sutherland said. “Golf courses, just the way they are laid out, lends itself to being able to operate safely.”

A guiding document for all golf courses to follow is expected out this week, he said.

In the meantime, Rifle Creek Golf Course has led the way among area courses in announcing that it would stay open. The decision came after taking a couple of days to evaluate the situation and put some of those measures in place, according to a statement posted on the golf course’s website.

“We have decided to stay open and will be taking the utmost precautions within our operations to provide the safest environment possible for people who still wish to play golf,” according to the statement. “We encourage our customers to do their part to keep everyone safe by following the mandated social distancing requirements.”

Among the precautions:

The pro shop and dining room will be closed

Congregating on the deck is not allowed

Walking access only, no golf carts or pull carts

Restrooms in the clubhouse are available, and are routinely cleaned and sanitized

On-course restrooms and water drinking stations are closed

Flagsticks must be left in the cup (cups are raised to avoid contact)

All bunker rakes have been removed

Driving range remains closed.

The Glenwood Springs Golf Club is tailoring its guidelines after Rifle, in hopes of opening on Wednesday, General Manager Jerry Butler said on Monday.

The course last week put out a call to its patrons to help provide bleach and other cleaning materials to make sure they can sterilize the clubhouse premises. Much of what Rifle is doing will also be the standard mode of operation at Glenwood, with a few modifications that were still being worked out on Monday.

“Hopefully, all will be good and we can resume normal operations soon,” Butler said in an email.

River Valley Ranch in Carbondale has closed after being open for limited play last week, and is asking people to stay off the course until further notice.

“While some golf courses have remained open, we are temporarily closing as we believe it is our civic duty to do so during this time,” RVR operators announced in a Facebook message over the weekend. “Please help us by not entering course property. This includes the driving range, cart paths and fairways.”

Ironbridge Golf Course south of Glenwood Springs plans to open for member play only on Wednesday, and is currently planning to open for public play by April 11, when the governor’s stay-at-home order is currently scheduled to end.

“We also have been tracking the best practices for golf courses, and will be employing those,” Ironbridge Assistant General Manager Cal Kendrick said on Monday.

The pro shop are closed, and tee time check will be done over the phone or through a window, he said.

“We are carrying out the social distancing requirements, including a single person to a cart, no touching flag sticks and no raking of bunkers,” Kendrick said.

As many courses are doing, the cups are pulled up so the ball just hits the edge instead of dropping into the hole.

Hand sanitizing and washing stations with soap and paper towel dispensers are also set up, he said.

A beverage and snack cart will be operating on the course, but will also be following protocols, Kendrick said.

Elsewhere, Battlement Mesa Golf Club remains closed until April 11 and the private Aspen Glen Club allows members-only play. Lakota Canyon Golf Club in New Castle did not have information posted on its website, and could not be reached for comment.

jstroud@postindependent.com