| AspenTimes.com

Woodward Copper summer camps not slowing down because of virus

COPPER MOUNTAIN — Even with the difficulties of the novel coronavirus, and despite this year’s decrease in snow from winter 2018-19, Woodward Copper at Copper Mountain Resort is offering a summertime on-mountain terrain park that rivals last year’s.

Although the acreage and features of this summer’s Central Park are the same as last year’s Pipeline Park, several elements of the summer ski and snowboard experience are different in the age of COVID-19.

One-third of the number of skiers and riders are up on snow for a total of 50 participants per day this summer compared with 150 per day last year. And due to virus precautions, Woodward has taken a regional approach in terms of participants and visiting pros. Rather than pro riders coming in from across the country for a weeklong camp, Woodward has Summit County-based pros such as Torstein Horgmo and Chad Otterstrom hit the park.

“(Sunday) was one of the more fun days I’ve ever had up there,” Otterstrom said Monday. “I am impressed whenever I go up there. It’s a wonderland for old snowboarders.”

This year, Horgmo and Otterstrom aren’t technically visiting pros interacting with campers; they’re participants. Much like previous years, they are wowing youngsters at the park with their soaring tricks on the triple-jump line or creativity on the quarter-pipe at the bottom of the terrain park. But they aren’t interacting with young skiers and riders as much as last summer when they drop into the park.

Considering he hadn’t hit resort terrain park jumps since March, when COVID-19 shut down skiing across Colorado, Otterstrom and his Academy Snowboards crew are enjoying the summer park much like a 12-year-old camper would — for the love of snowboarding. But bringing back the love of skiing and snowboarding was a challenge in creativity for Woodward Copper amid the pandemic.

Adam Kisiel, senior manager for Woodward Copper, said the Woodward crew at the resort wanted to do whatever they could to bring a strong summer park to life. They wanted it to be a statement to the ski and snowboard community that Woodward Copper brings a summer snow venue of a certain standard each year no matter the hurdles. To make it work, Woodward Copper is running single-day sessions rather than campers from around the country signing up for weeklong sessions. Adults are welcome to sign up whether they’re pros like Otterstrom and Horgmo or amateur Summit County shredders.

Whoever chooses to partake in these singular days, they have to pass health and temperature screenings based out of Copper Mountain’s West Village. It’s in West Village where parents drop off children and all participants are organized into groups with a coach to head up the mountain. Participants must register at least 48 hours in advance and wear a face covering — most opting for ski buffs.

Because Summit County public health regulations limit the number of people permitted in a vehicle, Woodward Copper is sending most participants up the hill via the Woodward Express chairlift, which didn’t spin in previous summers. From the top of the lift, it’s a short hike down to the top of the summer Central Park.

Once at Central Park, the relatively wide-open nature of the skiing and snowboarding compared to previous summers is something participants are appreciating as an escape during a tumultuous time in the world.

“It’s such a gift. It’s awesome,” Team Summit snowboard program director Matty Voegtle said Monday, when Team Summit had 15 youth snowboard and 12 youth ski athletes on the hill. “We were able to get almost every kid up there who wanted to be up there. There’s no line, and it’s a great park with a good build, good rails — everything.”

Voegtle commended Woodward Copper for having the “snow science” down pat. Kisiel said the crew has perfected how to build its big wintertime Central Park jumps well enough to have snow left to create the summer features they want — no matter how dry or warm the winter has been. They do this by farming snow from surrounding areas of the resort into one big pile to cultivate a warm-weather playground.

On that playground, Kisiel said the demand to participate has been strong and that they’ve maxed out capacity for the remainder of this week.

And, out on the jumps, Team Summit athletes enjoy an experience that Voegtle said is part training and skills work and part shredding for fun. Whether they are hucking twice-inverted tricks for the first time or refining their switch (backward) skiing and ride skills, they’re making the most of summer amid the pandemic.

“Even with the most competitive kids, it always has to be fun,” Voegtle said. “If it’s not fun, it’s really not worth it.”


Local start-up Ripton & Co. brings modern jorts to the outdoors, sports world

Elliot Wilkinson-Ray set out to give jorts — or jean shorts — more than a simple tune-up. He wanted to give them a whole new engine, one that would jive with today’s fashion culture.

“The idea was to create a young brand with a lot of spunk, a lot of personality,” Wilkinson-Ray said. “We are taking an object from the ’90s that was ubiquitous in that time period and we are making it really comfortable, we are making it a little bit technical — we are just updating it.”

Late last year, Wilkinson-Ray officially launched Ripton & Co., an online-only start-up based out of Aspen’s Skier Chalet, where he lives. They quickly sold through their first version of “technical sports jorts” during the winter and will soon be shipping their second version out to customers.

The Ripton & Co. jorts are unique as they are designed more like activewear with thin, stretchy material and are quickly finding their place among the outdoors-types, including mountain bikers and skiers.

When activewear companies, like Lululemon, exploded in popularity, denim took a nosedive. Wilkinson-Ray saw this as an opportunity. His inspiration for athletic jorts goes back to around 2014 when he was working for Kitsbow, a San Francisco-based company that makes cycling apparel, including with denim. With a more sophisticated clientele, Kitsbow didn’t take to Wilkinson-Ray’s idea of athletic jorts, something he brought with him to Aspen when he moved to the area three years ago.

“I thought the sports jorts for the athlete was something that was not happening. It was kind of a fun idea,” the 33-year-old said. “It will be something people want to wear to the Fourth of July or to a baseball game or to go hiking or mountain biking with our buddies — kind of a broad range. We did a lot of skiing in them this spring.”

The name comes from the small mountain town of Ripton in Vermont, near where Wilkinson-Ray grew up. The denim factory that currently makes their product is in Los Angeles, and their second shipment of 1,000 jorts was delayed until this month as that factory moved over to making facemasks and other personal protective equipment as the coronavirus pandemic broke out.

About 150 of those pairs were sold as pre-orders, and Wilkinson-Ray hopes to have the rest sold by the fall. At this time, they are only sold through their website or via word of mouth. Live locally and want a pair? Simply shoot them a message on Instagram (@ripton_co) and they can make it happen. Both men’s and women’s version 2.0 action jorts sell for $89 a pair.

While having an Aspen storefront is a dream to chase down the line, Ripton & Co.’s immediate strategy will be to sell online to the world and target niche markets, like ski towns, that would have a need and desire for athletic jorts. Wilkinson-Ray mostly runs the company by himself, but has a few friends, including his brother, who help out. The idea would be to have a couple of official staff members by next year as Ripton & Co. looks to take its next step.

“There is room for fresh blood,” Wilkinson-Ray said of the post-COVID world. “A lot of people are questioning the role of cities in our economic realities and landscapes. There is no reason why you can’t create the next big lifestyle brand from an even smaller town than here.”

To order a pair, go to riptonco.com.


The allure of hiking and climbing Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks

With snow-capped summits, awe-inspiring faces and inherent danger, Colorado’s Fourteeners — peaks that reach 14,000 feet or more above sea level — have enraptured hikers and climbers for years. Every year, Colorado’s Fourteeners are hiked by more than 500,000 people, with locals and international visitors taking on the challenge. Ranging from well-marked hiking trails to exposed climbs, they offer a difficulty range that allows hikers of all abilities to attempt the high peaks.

Although most hikers agree that a Fourteener is just any mountain over the 14,000-foot mark, some controversy remains over the official number in Colorado. Some enthusiasts maintain that only 52 of the often-listed 58 qualify as official. In addition to being over 14,000 feet in elevation, they maintain that a summit must be 200-500 feet taller than the mountain’s next highest feature. That way, false summits do not qualify even if they are above the 14,000-foot limit.

Some climbers also contend that privately-owned Fourteeners, such as Culebra Peak near San Luis, should not be included on the official list. The majority of the Fourteeners fall under the regulation of the U.S. Forest Service, though some fall on private property, and Longs Peak is in the boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Fourteener classification is unique to Colorado. No other state in the U.S. places such emphasis on its mountains that climb above 14,000 feet. Internationally, there are other famous groupings of peaks. The Seven Summits include the highest mountain on each continent, and mountaineers from around the world strive to summit all seven, even competing to climb them in a certain time period.

Another famous classification of peaks is the 14 mountains over 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), also known as the “death zone.” Largely in the Himalayas, the 8,000-meter peaks encompass some of the most dangerous mountains in the world, including Nepal’s Annapurna and Pakistan’s K2. By comparison, Colorado’s highest peak, Mount Elbert, is 4,401 meters high.

While Colorado is one of the only U.S. states to embrace the Fourteener classification, other countries have similar regional mountain groupings. In Scotland, the Munros are the 282 peaks above 3,000 feet. Though 3,000 feet might seem nothing compared to the Fourteeners, hikers start their ascent closer to sea level while many of the trailheads for Fourteeners are already above 10,000 feet in elevation.

Historian Sally Kween from the Summit Historical Society explains that the Fourteener categorization became so popular because it is feasible for hikers to summit all 58 peaks in a lifetime.

“Considering that there are 647 thirteeners and over 1,000 12,000-foot mountains, 58 is a nice, round, achievable number,” Kween said. “It can be overwhelming for a person to even consider hiking all those mountains, but 58 offers an achievable challenge.”

While the Fourteeners make up some of Colorado’s most famous peaks, sometimes the celebrated classification can overshadow other beautiful mountains that are just feet shy from making the cut. Colorado’s thirteeners don’t come with the same bragging rights, but they often offer the same challenging terrain, miles of views and fewer crowds.

“I personally like hiking thirteeners more because they are less traveled, providing the additional element of route-finding and solitude,” Keystone Science School Director of Marketing Dave Miller said. “Whether a mountain is a Fourteener or thirteener, it’s a great opportunity to be outside, challenge oneself or share an adventure with a friend.”

Starting off

Summit County offers a selection of Fourteeners and thirteeners for hikers to attempt. The county’s three Fourteeners include Grays Peak at 14,270 feet, Torreys Peak at 14,267 feet and Quandary Peak at 14,265 feet. Grays and Torreys are part of the Front Range and are easily accessible from Interstate 70. The two summits are connected by a saddle, meaning they can be hiked in one day.

The difficulty level of each Fourteener is ranked by the national Yosemite Decimal System that has been used in the U.S. for 75 years. Class 1 mountains have well-marked hiking trails. Class 2 routes include easy scrambling, where you might need to use your hands occasionally. The route might have some climbing over snow and more exposure. Class 3 is defined as routes with unroped climbing. Hikers will need to use their hands on the rocks and might have to do their own route-finding. Class 4 routes are where hikers are actually climbing and where a rope comes in handy. Without a rope, falls from Class 4 routes can be fatal. Class 5 terrain requires technical rock climbing.

By the popular North Slopes route, Grays Peak is a Class 1 hike. The route to Torreys Peak becomes a Class 2 trail, but both mountains are good hikes for beginners. For those who are experienced in the mountains and are seeking a bigger challenge, Torreys Kelso Ridge route offers a Class 3 climb to the summit with beautiful views and more exposure.

Summit’s other Fourteener, Quandary Peak, is also a popular mountain for first-time hikers. Located south of Breckenridge, the Quandary Peak trailhead is highly accessible.

“Being a short drive to reach the trailhead, it’s a very popular hike and has amazing views of peaks surrounding Summit County,” Miller said.

By its Class 1 East Ridge route, Quandary is a 6.7-mile roundtrip hike. For a Class 3 challenge, climbers can attempt Quandary’s West Ridge. Climbers on that route should have experience on Fourteeners, know the route beforehand and be prepared with adequate equipment.

While peaks such as Grays, Torreys and Quandary are easily accessible and good for beginners, experts encourage people to take all Fourteeners seriously regardless of difficulty rating.

“I don’t think any Fourteener should be considered an easy hike,” Miller said. “The elevation and exposure to the elements make what might be considered an easy hike very difficult. On average, a typical vertical gain is 3,000 feet. That’s a big day, and you can find peaks with more or less vertical gained.”

Beware the weather

Miller explained that the biggest dangers on Fourteeners are a result of changing weather conditions.

“It’s common that it may be warm and sunny in town and bitter cold and windy on top of our surrounding peaks,” Miller said. “We often get afternoon storms, and it’s important to reach the summit and begin descending before 11 a.m.”

To avoid thunderstorms, hikers should check weather conditions the day before and the morning of a hike. If hikers are still on the mountain when bad weather hits, they should aim to get to tree line or a shelter quickly. Hikers should distance themselves from any metal objects, such as hiking poles. If people are still in an exposed position on a ridge when a storm hits, the best protection is to crouch down with weight shifted to the balls of the feet rather than lying flat or standing up.

Thunderstorms on the peaks can be a frightening experience, but they are easily avoidable by leaving a trailhead early and establishing a turn around time.

“At Keystone Science School, we hike a lot of mountains, and we often wake our students up and have them starting our hike at 4 a.m. in the morning,” Miller said. “We make sure to check the weather before hiking and are not afraid of turning around if conditions are threatening.”

To prepare, Miller encourages hikers to make sure they are well-equipped. Plenty of water and fluids, high-protein foods and layers of clothing are important to have for the summit.

“We always make sure that each child has ample water, multiple layers and a rain jacket for rain or wind,” said Miller, who recommends three liters of water or more per hiker.

Whether they are new to Fourteeners or have summited all 58, hikers can gain an immense amount of satisfaction from hiking one. As long as people do their research and are well-prepared, hikers of all abilities can enjoy the Fourteeners.

“There’s so many transferable lessons which can be gained from hiking mountains, and it’s these experiences which shape a person’s approach to life,” Miller said.


Adaptive Summit County skateboarder Mike Minor continues to push boundaries

FRISCO — Daniel Gale has a challenge for any skateboarder out there: put your hand in your pocket. Then leave it there while you try to perform your favorite trick or ride your favorite line. And see how much you rely on your arms, not just to grab your board, but to balance.

After feeling that variable out, Gale would ask a boarder to realize the challenge X Games medalist Mike Minor of Frisco has when he attempts to Ollie head-high, or skate sideways while executing a grind on his board’s trucks high above one of the flow bowl’s tallest features at the Frisco Skatepark.

“Especially on a skateboard, it’s really critical,” said Gale, the co-founder and executive director of Adaptive Action Sports. “Mike’s got a style that’s really fast and big. He likes to do big tricks. Those ollies — head-high — and bigger, long grinds. And he carries a lot of speed, which is really cool to watch.”

Those who know the 29-year-old are well aware of the boundary-pushing ethos he carries, both on a snowboard or skateboard and throughout his life after he was born without a right forearm.

At the 2018 Pyeongchang winter Paralympics in South Korea, Minor was able to shave off about 2 seconds off his final run in the Banked Slalom SB-Upper Limb competition, racing to a gold medal for the stars and stripes. In another race, he landed a front flip before the finish line. That’s Minor.

The same goes for the all-seasons shredder in the skatepark or streets, wherever his skateboard takes him. At home in Frisco, the Pennsylvania native lives to lace fast lines through the flowing transitions of the Frisco Skatepark. That’s where he spent all of last summer finding transition pockets to keep speed in the brand new park.

A year later, Minor fights through the pain of a skater’s life daily — with his dog Max, or “Dinky”, chasing behind him — to improve his skating and tricks. This is, after all, is the park where he and Gale practiced last summer in advance of his bronze-medal win at the first-ever medal-awarding adaptive skateboard event at an X Games.

“The skatepark portion here is absolutely insane,” Minor said. “The bowls, I like to just get in there and grind the lips, the copings as far as I can. Some of the over-vert bowls are amazing. You don’t even have to do tricks in there. Just ride fast.”

On his snowboard or skateboard, riding fast has left Minor with his share of injuries. Last summer while feeling out possible lines in the new park he had what he called a “stupid fall” that split open his skull. Earlier this year, before a multi-month stay in Europe due to COVID-19, Minor severely rolled his ankle while filming a skate video in his favorite place on earth to ride: Barcelona, Spain.

That injury cut into his snowboarding season before COVID-19 officially ended his winter season and skateboarding filming time as he spent months in Finland with his fiancé. He returned to Frisco just under a month ago, and has been on his skateboard at the skatepark daily ever since.

Hours upon hours spent at the Frisco Skatepark also aid Minor’s unique approach to adaptive snowboarding. While most para snowboarders stick to the banked-slalom and snowboardcross racing hosted by the Paralympics, Minor pushes adaptive boundaries in resort terrain parks. He wows with his inverted tricks off of rail features.

But these days it’s on a skateboard where Minor feels he can push and progress his passion for riding sideways the most. There are more peers, like fellow American para-snowboard stars Evan Strong and Noah Elliott, who also are stylish skaters. To Minor, currently it’s just a more creative medium with friends pushing each other.

And though Gale is not a para athlete himself, he is one of those friends with a vested interest in the future of para skating. Gale is a sport organizer with X Games who brought the sport into the event’s medal conversation last summer.

After the 2019 event, Gale said X Games officials relayed that they loved the debut of para skateboarding and were ready to bring it back this summer. Then the event was canceled due to COVID-19.

“This is a vertical they are interested in expanding, how to do more with it,” Gale said. “It’s cool to watch adaptive skateboarding because it’s so visual. Snowboarding is often covered up. Skating is just so visual and so inspiring.”

X Games isn’t the only extreme-sport height Gale hopes para skating will reach. Gale is currently sitting on a subcommittee put together by U.S. Skateboarding in an effort to bring Paralympic skateboarding to life.

Time will tell if that may be possible for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics that are now delayed to next summer.

“And it’s Mike’s goal, of course, if this comes to fruition to make that team as well as be on the snowboard team,” Gale said. “He’d be a full year-round athlete, dual mediums. … He’s just really passionate about his sports. And he’s a great skate buddy.”


Brake the Cycle charity ride returns with limited numbers, same big goal

The size of the peloton will be smaller, but the cause will be just as big and far more important amid a global pandemic.

Back for its ninth year, the Aspen Invitational “Brake the Cycle” charity ride will take place Saturday in an attempt to raise money for the citizens of Zambia who are in desperate need of clean water.

“It’s a new and challenging way to continue the annual fundraising goal,” said co-organizer Nicole Birkhold of the mostly virtual format this year. “We really wanted to make sure our goal and some of the money and fundraising efforts that people in Zambia count on every year from us in order to install more clean water wells in rural areas of Zambia didn’t go short this year, because it’s more important than ever.”

Brake the Cycle, which is organized in large part by the local Appleby family, is done in partnership with World Vision, one of the largest humanitarian aid organizations on the planet. The main goal of the non-competitive ride is to provide funds in order to create new water wells in Zambia, a land-locked country in Africa located just south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The money raised also goes toward new bicycles, which provide the Zambians with a means to commute to work, school, the market and to the wells, which aren’t always close by. Many of the organizers, including the Applebys, have traveled to Zambia in the past to help dig the wells and deliver the bikes.

“I can’t do much because we don’t make a lot of money, but we can give back with our time and just being available and being part of the ride as guides,” said pro cyclist Katie Compton. “Bringing clean water and bikes to people, it’s a life-changing thing you can give them. And also teach them to be self-sufficient and pretty much rely on themselves to get their products to market, to have the girls be able to get to school, to be able to transport themselves and rely on themselves. It just makes it better for everyone.”

Compton, a Colorado Springs-based cyclocross rider who happens to be among the best in the world, is one of a handful of professionals who have long been involved with the Aspen Invitational. Boulder’s Cari Higgins has long served as the ride leader, with alumni including Kiel Reijnen and George Hincapie, among many others.

Compton plans to be in Aspen on Saturday for the in-person ride, which is being limited to only 40 riders spread out on the route in smaller groups to abide by local COVID-19 guidelines. It won’t be the same spectacle as in past years due to the coronavirus pandemic, but combined with the online Strava challenge it should fulfill its goal of helping the Zambians.

“You can’t really enjoy large groups, but we can still do something,” Compton said. “It’s fun for the pros to chat with people, and people who are really committed to doing something good, to raising money for clean water, to raising money to provide bikes.”

The staggered in-person start gets underway at 8 a.m. at Paepcke Park in Aspen. The route includes some of the most popular spots in the Roaring Fork Valley, such as a trek out to the Maroon Bells and lap around Owl Creek Road and Snowmass.

While the in-person component is sold out, people can still get involved virtually.

“We were optimistic early on that everything was going to be fine and we would be able to have our in-person ride with the 100-plus people we normally ride with. But as things got closer it became more apparent that was not going to be able to happen,” Birkhold said of the quick shift in format. “One of the cool things about it is it has allowed us to broaden our reach as well, so we have people joining us from Georgia, from the U.K., from Zambia, actually. So people from all around the world are now able to join us in this effort via bicycles to raise money for clean water.”

For more information, visit www.brakethecycle.net.


Aspen Cycling Club: Results from Basalt Mountain MTB time trial on July 8




Mens A (Open)

1 0:26:48 SAMPSON, Mike Hub of Aspen / Revel Bikes

2 0:27:43 BECK, George Basalt Bike & Ski

3 0:28:43 KELLY, Christian Limelight Hotel

4 0:28:54 ESPINOZA, Jorge Excel Sports – Insight Designs

5 0:29:22 PETERSON, Butch RFMBA Trail Agents

6 0:29:29 LEONARD, Scott Basalt Bike & Ski

7 0:29:54 DEWIRE, Markus RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team

8 0:30:17 LEWIS, Joseph Wifey Racing / Shott Peformance

9 0:30:38 NOVY, Erik RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team

10 0:30:43 KOSTER, Ryan Culver’s Glenwood Springs

11 0:30:49 CARPENTER, Corbin RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team

12 0:30:58 VIOLA, John


14 0:31:25 LOGAN, Levi RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team

15 0:31:29 JOHNSON, Finn Basalt Bike & Ski

16 0:31:50 LOEFFLER, Alexander FastG8

17 0:31:55 LOGAN, Mark Basalt Bike & Ski

18 0:32:50 KLEIN, Caden Hub of Aspen

Womens A (Advanced)

1 0:36:15 HILL, Morgan

2 0:42:06 BORCHERS, Emma RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team

Mens B (Advanced)

1 0:32:34 TUDDENHAM, Luke Basalt Bike & Ski

2 0:33:25 BORCHERS, David Basalt Bike & Ski

3 0:33:32 KLUG, Chris Hub of Aspen / Chris Klug Foundation

4 0:33:38 ELLIOT, Simon Basalt Bike & Ski

5 0:34:18 ADAMS, Casey Basalt Bike & Ski

6 0:34:30 ETTLINGER, Jared

7 0:34:56 PERNA, Lew Great Divide Brewing

8 0:35:39 WILLIAMS, Brian

9 0:35:44 BRITTINGHAM, John

10 0:37:46 CHERNOSKY, David Groove Subaru

11 0:38:00 CIBULSKY, John Roaring Fork Cycling

12 0:38:26 MORROW, Gardner

13 0:39:01 KIERNAN, Ryan STRAFE

14 0:41:46 FAAS, Michael Hub of Aspen

15 0:42:40 GOTTLIEB, Benjamin Roaring Fork Cycling

Mens C (Sport)

1 0:37:50 CALLE, Juan Basalt Bike & Ski

2 0:40:39 KELLOFF, Alex

Womens C (Sport)

1 0:51:18 SHAW, Sara Limelight Hotel

Mens 50+

1 0:33:31 LANE, Chris ACES

2 0:37:38 COOK, Miles Modern Market Racing p/b GP capital partners

3 0:38:48 BURKLEY, Rich Limelight Hotel

4 0:39:04 COLE, Jeffrey Hub of Aspen

5 0:39:32 TRANTOW, George Old Farts

Men 60+

1 0:38:17 GIBANS, Jon RFMBA Trail Agents

2 0:47:09 LYONS, Steve Basalt Bike & Ski

3 0:48:19 MURTAGH, Patrick

Men 70+

1 0:47:19 JONES, Larry

2 0:56:50 OVEREYNDER, Phil

High School Boys

1 0:35:59 TRANTOW, Tristan CRMS

2 0:39:38 FRIDAY, Sam

3 0:43:36 CRAWFORD, Nat CRMS

— Race Marshals: Kristen, John Grice, Richard Diether, Tyler Newton, Heidi Mellin

— Results may also be viewed at www.aspencyclingclub.org. Questions about results should be directed to results@aspencyclingclub.org.

With the cycling season in doubt, Swirbul continues to train and hope for best

Keegan Swirbul’s season began with a head-on collision with another cyclist and a trip to the hospital. His season was further put on hold only days later when the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down Europe.

The 24-year-old Aspen High School graduate is plenty used to career hurdles, and continues to chase after his professional cycling dreams. But even Swirbul knows the challenges facing both him and the cycling world in 2020 are something altogether different.

“I’ve had a lot of chances, but I haven’t, if that makes sense,” Swirbul said of his roller-coaster career. “I’ve had times where I’ve done numbers on the power meter that are really good and I seriously believe I have the potential to be a big rider, but I just haven’t had the stars align to get to a race that is a big race and have no injuries or no problems going on and then put it together.”

Swirbul was set to carry on with his nomadic career this summer with Ljubljana Gusto Santic, a professional cycling team based out of Slovenia that competes on the UCI Continental Circuit level, which is a step below the premier UCI World Tour and the newly formed UCI ProSeries.

He spent the 2019 season with Floyd’s Pro Cycling, the upstart team backed by former pro cyclist Floyd Landis, one of the primary whistleblowers in the Lance Armstrong doping saga who also faced a short ban from the sport. However, the team folded after only a single season, leaving Swirbul without a home yet again. The year before he had ridden for Jelly Belly-Maxxis, which folded following the 2018 season.

“I really realized I had to go fully to Europe. I would have been in Europe since February until October or November had this corona stuff not happened,” Swirbul said. “I realized I had to go over there full time, so I just kind of emailed as many directors as I could and begged them to give me a shot. And they ended up doing it.”

Ljubljana Gusto Santic became the team to sign Swirbul, but before he could ever get to Slovenia to live in the team house and begin his training, a lot went wrong.

First, there was his crash in late January while training in Arizona that resulted in a fractured spine. It turned out to be a best-case scenario, however, and he healed quickly with no lingering issues and was soon back on a bike.

Then COVID-19 arrived, shutting down the cycling season before it really got going. Not only that, but most of Europe’s borders were and remain closed, and especially to Americans like Swirbul, stranding him at home with no idea of if or when he will actually get to join his Slovenian team.

“That was pretty traumatic and not a great way to start the year,” Swirbul said of his training accident. “It was looking like we were going to have some races in August, September, October, but now, who knows? Now I’ve crossed it off my mental list, unfortunately, with this travel ban. But who knows?”

While Swirbul has taken a rather pessimistic view to the cycling season taking place, he hasn’t backed off his training efforts. If anything, he’s putting in more work than he has before and plans to be ready to race should the opportunity come his way this year.

“Right now I feel amazing, which is another insanely frustrating thing,” Swirbul said. “I’m honestly training harder than I ever have right now, just trying to learn about my body and build my engine. That’s good for me. But a lot of guys are pretty mentally cracked and have no motivation to even put a leg over a bike.”

As of Tuesday, most of the major cycling races were still a go this season, albeit with an adjusted calendar. The Tour de France, which would normally be held primarily through July, is now scheduled to start Aug. 29. The other Grand Tour races, the Giro d’Italia and Spanish Vuelta, are scheduled to start Oct. 3 and Oct. 20, respectively.

The Grand Tours, which are well out of Swirbul’s grasp at this point in his career, could very well be the only significant races held this year, if they are held at all. What this means for Swirbul and other Continental Circuit riders is anyone’s guess. Swirbul’s younger sister, Hailey Swirbul, is on the U.S. cross-country ski team and while their season remains many months out, questions continue to go unanswered for all athletes amid the ongoing pandemic.

“It’s going to be really touch and go. I think they’ll get the Tour off, I really think so, but as far as the other races, I got to say I really don’t think so,” Keegan Swirbul said of the cycling season, while maintaining hope of a successful career. “I really am going to try and keep going as long as my parents are supportive — which they are very supportive — and see if I can kind of show myself someday.”


AVSC coach Casey Puckett returns to U.S. ski team as women’s Europa Cup coach

Alice McKennis gave Casey Puckett the nickname “Five Time” while training at Copper Mountain in early June. This required an explanation for the younger U.S. national team skiers, as they weren’t all too familiar with Puckett’s past, which includes an impressive World Cup career and five Olympic appearances.

But for the 30-year-old McKennis, having Puckett around brought her back to her roots as a young FIS skier with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, when she worked directly with Puckett.

“I just kept having these moments where it was like a flashback to 15 years ago with Casey Puckett training on the same trail. It was really fun to have him there and have all those memories come back,” McKennis said. “He has such a great eye and a great understanding of what it takes to be an elite athlete because he was one.”

Puckett, who has called the Roaring Fork Valley home since 1999 and has spent a collective nine years coaching AVSC athletes, has returned to the U.S. ski team, but this time as a coach. The 47-year-old was recently named the head technical coach for the women’s Europa Cup team, a role that unofficially began with that Copper Mountain training camp last month.

AVSC has certainly had other coaches move on — and often back from — the national team, notably its current alpine director, Johno McBride, who helped lead the Americans through many Olympics, including the most recent Winter Games in 2018. Snowboard coach Nichole Mason left the Aspen club two years ago to take over as the slopestyle rookie team coach for the U.S.

“It says something about AVSC when the U.S. team is actively recruiting coaches from the club. It just shows you the level of coaches we have here,” Puckett said. “We have such a good group of kids here and they are a lot of fun to work with. They work hard and they are fast. It’s going to be hard to leave those guys. I’m going to miss them. But I think it will be good to move to this next level and see what’s out there.”

Puckett’s main job with U.S. Ski and Snowboard this season will be to help develop young skiers such as AJ Hurt, Katie Hensien and Alix Wilkinson. McKennis, a two-time Olympian from New Castle, is primarily a World Cup speed skier and won’t directly work with Puckett.

The Europa Cup team is a newer creation made by U.S. alpine director Jesse Hunt, who took over the role in 2018. Hunt was actually one of Puckett’s coaches back when he was an athlete, and it was Hunt who reached out to Puckett to bring him on as a national team coach. While the Europa Cup and North American Cup are deemed to be the same level on paper, in reality the Europa Cup is a step up from Nor-Ams and success there will make it easier for U.S. athletes to make the jump to the World Cup.

“If you are not going to that series and paying attention to that level, then it’s a little bit more difficult to make the step to the World Cup. His motto is to win at every level, so he hired me to come help do that,” Puckett said of Hunt. “You don’t often get a call from the U.S. team to coach. If I would have passed it by, it may not have been there again, so I went for it.”

Puckett was an alpine skier for the U.S. from 1991 through 2002, competing in the 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics. Most of his success came as a technical skier in the earlier part of his career — he took seventh in slalom at the ’94 Games in Norway — before he transitioned more into speed racing at the close. He coached for AVSC from 2002 to 2006 before returning to the national team, but this time in skicross, and competed in the 2010 Olympics before ending his career.

“Working with someone who has that understanding is unique and it’s not all that common within the ski racing world,” McKennis said of working with Puckett. “A lot of the younger generation — my teammates — aren’t as familiar with him and his background. So I think they were a little confused at first, like, ‘Why are you calling this guy Five Time?’”

Puckett returned to coach at AVSC in 2015, where he most recently was the club’s head U16 coach. He’s still going to call the Roaring Fork Valley home and believes a return to coaching at AVSC is possible down the road. He has two daughters, both high schoolers at Basalt and Colorado Rocky Mountain School.

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there are a lot of questions about the coming ski season and if it will happen at all. The U.S. alpine team hopes to continue on-snow training later this month at Mount Hood in Oregon, and will likely look to Europe or South America for fall camps, should borders open up to them again.

The next Winter Olympics is tentatively scheduled for 2022 in China, where COVID-19 is believed to have originated from. The Olympics aren’t necessarily a given for Puckett and his Europa Cup squad, but he believes his athletes have a good chance of getting there. Especially considering the U.S. is currently thin in terms of technical skiers, with only Mikaela Shiffrin, Nina O’Brien and Paula Moltzan having established themselves at that level.

“There aren’t a lot of numbers there right now, so my girls, if they ski well, they’ll have a good shot at making the Olympic team,” Puckett said. “Honestly, it’s not a big jump. They are really not that far behind the girls that are racing on the World Cup.”


Snowboarders Chris Corning, Chase Blackwell dish on new film, ‘Teal’

SILVERTHORNE — While driving south earlier this week for some wakeboarding in Texas followed by some dirt biking in Missouri, Summit County pro snowboarder Chris Corning chatted about his new snowboard film, “Teal.”

For Corning, a 2018 Olympian and multi-time International Ski & Snowboard Federation Crystal Globe season champion, it’s the 20-year-old big air and slopestyle rider’s debut movie effort.

Corning, who’s the producer and director of the movie, said last year he decided he wanted to make his first snowboard film. So he recruited friends such as street specialist Sam Klein, daredevil Windham “Lawndart” Miller, U.S. pro team halfpipe rider Chase Blackwell and others to collaborate with him for several months of filming this past winter. He enlisted filmmaker Alex Havey to shoot and edit the footage.

Corning said the movie is currently being edited and he hopes to release it in the fall. He said he decided on “Teal” as the name because the color reminds him of the kind of riders featured in the movie who, he said, may not be the biggest, most obvious names, but he feels are some of the world’s best snowboarders.

“Teal is kind of the color that has its own path,” Corning said. “It doesn’t follow too much. It’s its own color. The movie is about people who have their own path. And since we are not the mainstream riders, we want to show we are still some of the best.

“We want to show we have what it takes, the same riding potential, and can put together as good a movie as others can with the little bit of backing we have,” the 2018 X Games Norway bronze medalist added.

Corning said the movie’s crew began filming in December up in Duluth, Minnesota, where he, Klein and Miller stayed out for 11 days during the same month Corning stole the show with his four-rotation, five-inversion quad-cork 1800 trick in the Visa Big Air World Cup event in Atlanta. From there, Klein and some young riders featured in the movie stayed in the Midwest and filmed more street riding in Wisconsin.

“We hit a couple of really gnarly rails, tall, off some bridges and stuff,” Corning said. “We hit a basketball hoop. That was pretty fun. We just tried to, basically, whatever we had to hit be on par with every other movie we’ve seen up in the top categories we watched last year.”

Corning singled out a down-flat-down-rail he rode that was two-and-a-half stories long. On the first four tries he had to bail on the rail and ride down the adjacent stairs before he rode it through on the fifth try.

Using the basketball hoop’s cement stanchion as a ramp was his idea, something he spotted when the crew was driving around. So they built a ramp and landing, used a winch to tow riders in for the speed necessary to ride over the hoop’s backboard before landing in the court area. Corning himself executed a 180-degree spin on the hoop while rotating to his board’s backside.

Filming eventually brought the crew out to Jackson Hole in Wyoming in March, where Blackwell joined his fellow Never Summer rider Corning and the rest of the squad.

After his most successful international halfpipe season yet as a pro, Dillon resident Blackwell said the film’s backcountry riding near Togwotee Pass in Jackson Hole was a special experience outside of contest riding for him.

“We did hit this one jump off of a rock that almost looked like a kicker, and that was probably one of my favorite sessions,” Blackwell said. “Just everything about that whole session was very spontaneous. When a lot of people see that, I think they will be electrified with how crazy that feature looks. It was more of a natural feature, not anything we had to build or shape out.”

Inspired to film riding like much of Travis Rice’s shoots in Wyoming, Corning and the gang looked for their own spots in the hilly terrain. It was a 60-foot-long jump the crew built that stands out to Corning from the Wyoming backcountry session, as he landed four tricks that will be featured in the movie.

“My favorite part of that trip was being able to land so many tricks on a single jump in the same day,” Corning said. “That doesn’t usually happen on a powder jump. I think it will be different for people to watch. … We were doing definitely some of the hardest tricks I’ve ever done in the backcountry, some of the hardest tricks that have ever been done in snowboard powder.”


Bike shops, manufacturers work to keep up with demand amid supply crisis

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Right as the clock hits 10 a.m., opening time, the phone rings at Orange Peel bike shop in Steamboat. The shrill tone comes from two separate phones that aren’t quite synced, giving the illusion of multiple calls coming in and adding to the sense of stress.

The phone rings four times in the next seven minutes.

Meanwhile, three people walk their bikes to the open door with questions about quick fixes. There’s really no such thing as a quick fix these days.

Orange Peel, along with every other bike retailer and repair shop in Steamboat Springs, is overwhelmed and overloaded. Demand is higher than ever for bikes as people look for alternatives to public transportation as well as something to do amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, since foreign and domestic factories and warehouses experienced long-term closures and slow openings, the supply for bicycles and some parts and accessories can’t keep up.

Bikes are the new toilet paper

Like toilet paper was in April, bicycles are hard to find now.

Public transportation has shut down in some places, cut back in others and become a more obvious health risk amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So, people are looking for an alternate mode of transportation. When resorts closed, gyms and studios shuttered their doors and the snow melted, cycling became an increasingly popular way to enjoy the outdoors and exercise safely under the stay-at-home order.

The demand for a pair of wheels is higher than it has been in years, reminding those in the industry of the recession in 2008, when skyrocketing gas prices prompted a huge surge in bike sales.

The NPD Group, a market research company, said April sales for bikes, indoor bikes and accessories grew by 75% to $1 billion, compared to the same time last year. The group noted that basic adult bicycle sales grew by 203% while front suspension mountain bike sales were up more than 150%. Meanwhile, stationary bike sales grew by 270% in April.

Local shops have seen those same trends. Harry Martin, owner of Ski and Bike Kare, said gravel bikes, front suspension mountain bikes, as well as e-bikes have been flying off shelves, with only e-bikes still in stock.

Ski and Bike Kare typically maintains a stock of 400 bicycles. Right now, they have about 100. Martin said his spring sale numbers are more than double compared to years past.

Ross Kirby, sales manager at Orange Peel, said it’s near impossible to find a bike under $1,500 dollars. Being a small shop, Orange Peel only orders a couple bikes in each model. If someone needs a different size, they’ll order it. At least, that’s how it usually works.

“For the person who wants to get into biking right now, it’s a bad summer to get into it,” Kirby said. “Sorry, but with the whole pandemic and lack of inventory from manufacturers, I don’t have anything to show you.”

Schwinn, an affordable bike brand, is sold out of all 11 types of mountain bikes it offers on its website. Of the 12 road bikes they offer, six models are sold out, while all but one model of their cruiser bikes are marked as sold out.

Spring and early summer are already busy times at bike shops. People will bring in their bikes for a preseason tune and as the season hits its peak, more people need more repairs or regular maintenance. That anticipated business already keeps shops busy, but now that’s reached a new level. Service appointments are booked up for weeks in advance, and walk-ins add to the onslaught.

Maybe satisfying the hunger for two-wheeled vehicles would be easier if the supply chain hadn’t taken such a hit.

A broken supply chain

Most bikes and their parts are made in Taiwan or China. While Taiwan avoided mass shutdowns, closures in China caused a huge hiccup in the supply chain. When many factories shut down, it came right after an expected pause in production for the Chinese New Year. That break, combined with weeks of closure, created a deficit in the supply, not only for bikes, but for bike components like shifters, handlebars, brake lines and more.

“It’s the weird basic stuff, like 26-inch tubes are out of stock, right now,” Kirby said. “Bike racks for cars are out of stock.”

At Ski and Bike Kare, Martin said he usually turns to one vendor to fill all his orders, but now looks to many to try to find what he needs.

“It’s a matter of going to 10 different suppliers to fill out an order,” Martin said. “Because one person has one thing, another has another thing.”

Of course, stores are still full of supplies and accessories for cyclists. A rider just shouldn’t be surprised if it takes a little longer for an occasional component to be shipped.

Thankfully, a lot of suppliers have warehouses on U.S. soil, but many of those are in California, which is operating at the lowest level possible due to a high number of COVID-19 cases in the state. There are far fewer employees working in those warehouses, meaning the supply that does exist is taking longer to tap into.

Both Orange Peel and Ski and Bike Kare have a few bikes coming in over the next few weeks since they put models on backorder earlier in the year.

Like cars, bikes come out with new models every year. Typically, this happens in the fall, but some brands will push out new models a little earlier. The stock of 2020 bikes is dwindling as companies prepare to push out the upcoming 2021 models. So until that happens, economy bikes in popular sizes will likely remain sold out.

Expensive is the exception

Higher-end bike manufacturers, such as Steamboat-based Moots, saw little change in the supply chain or sales.

Moots bikes sell for upward of $10,000, so the new or casual rider won’t typically purchase a Moots. The demand for high-end bikes hasn’t changed much with the pandemic, so Moots hasn’t seen a dramatic rise in sales, but did have a successful June, according to Moots marketing director Jon Cariveau.

The company hasn’t experienced much difficulty with shipments or supplies. Moots builds its bikes in Steamboat, bringing in the titanium tubing needed to construct the frame. Since Moots forecasts the need for tubing almost a year in advance, they have plenty on hand. Even though most of the bike components are Shimano or SRAM, brands that hail from Asia, Moots hasn’t experienced any delays.

“Both of those companies typically have a warehouse in the United States that’s really well-stocked,” Cariveau said. “The delivery of those really haven’t been too much of a problem. Those were mostly in-country when all of this started happening. We’ve seen, for us, not much supply chain interruption.”

Carbon fiber forks were the one part that was on pause for a while, as the factory that makes them in Taiwan had to close. For a few weeks, Moots was unable to get any carbon fiber forks to Steamboat.

“That was the only piece of the puzzle we saw get interrupted,” Cariveau said. “There are U.S. sources for that same style of fork, and we were able to substitute a little bit, but here we are, right back with really good supply on that front.”