Clubhouse Chronicles: Making the fun and games of Nordic skiing into a lifelong activity |

Clubhouse Chronicles: Making the fun and games of Nordic skiing into a lifelong activity

Garrett Russell
AVSC’s Aspen Bill Koch Youth Ski League Director

It’s the end of the season?! I’ve been saying this every year for the past five winters and, yet again, I’m surprised that the Bill Koch Youth Ski League is already at the end of our winter season. We have come a long way since the snow began falling in November, almost a month earlier than last year. Our littlest adventurers, many of who had never been on cross-country skis before, have made huge gains.

Ask anyone who has tried Nordic skiing, also known as cross-country skiing, and they will tell you it is challenging. And they are right. Connecting tiny sticks (less than 3 inches wide) to your feet, training your muscles to balance and ultimately move down a packed snowy trail is daunting. Add uphills, downhills and corners and you are really in for a good time that quickly knocks your ego down a few notches. Motor skills, balance, agility, strength and endurance are valuable skills that are gained with more time spent on Aspen/Snowmass and Spring Gulch’s free trail systems.

AVSC’s Bill Koch Youth Ski League, named after the United States’ first Olympic Medalist in Nordic skiing, serves 160 Nordic skiers, ages 5-11, in two locations in the Roaring Fork Valley (Aspen and Spring Gulch). We have dozens of coaches up and down the valley that dedicate their time to build a robust Nordic program, starting with our youngest athletes in the Bill Koch Youth Ski League. As our skiers learn throughout the winter season, the speed at which our skiers progress is inspiring and before you know it they are racking in the kilometers each practice.

At the beginning, the littlest obstacles, such as putting on skis and navigating the Moore Fields, were a struggle, and now they are flying up Clubhouse Hill without a second thought. Not to mention they love to cruise on the downhills, squeezing their poles tight to their armpits, knees bent in a tuck position, eyes scanning, searching for every jump and bump to go over. It is common to see a handful of kids laughing in a pile at the bottom of a hill. Contrary to popular beliefs, we build jumps and ski powder — we’re not that different from our alpine friends!

Our coaches love to see our skiers develop their technique and progress into our “team” (competitive) programs. That said, our ultimate goal is to create lifelong skiers that love the sport not only for its technical aspects, but for the community that is created. And this community is a strong one. One that supports our Olympians, our newest U.S. team members, collegiate athletes and team programs. One that provides free world-class trail systems to all who live here or visit. One that hosted its 34th Progressive Bonfire Dinner in January, which saw its largest attendance in its history of the event. Our parents are quick to volunteer and support our events and our alumni regularly visit to ski with our up-and-comers.

Our beloved sport may start with struggles, but the struggles soon turn to a love of hard work, the outdoors and elation when the skis on their feet finally learn to glide on perfectly-groomed trails. And the hot cocoa and goldfish at the end of practice doesn’t hurt either.

Clubhouse Chronicles is a twice-a-month, behind-the-scenes column written by the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club during the winter months. It runs in the Friday Outdoors section.