Pat Gleason, creator of Steamboat’s high school Nordic ski program, is retiring
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Twenty years ago, Pat Gleason and Barry Smith created the Steamboat Springs High School Nordic ski team. Gleason, 67, has always been involved with the team, volunteering to assist the Sailors and becoming their wax master.
After decades with the team, Gleason has decided to retire.
“You start getting older, it gets harder to get around. Race day, it’s extremely demanding. Every minute is counted for,” Gleason said. “Physically, my knees have gone to hell. It makes it tough to get out and do things.”
Gleason skied for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club before competing collegiately at the University of Wyoming, or the “Harvard of the West,” as he called it. So, his knees have seen their fair share of work.
“He’s been skiing less and less the last couple years,” said high school Nordic head coach Jesse Wilkins. “Now, most of the time he doesn’t even put skis on anymore. But I don’t think that detracts from his value as a coach.”
When Wilkins took over the team four years ago and learned Gleason had been volunteering this whole time, he offered to pay him.
“He said, ‘You couldn’t pay me what I’m worth,’” Wilkins said. “I believe that now. He’s been skiing and waxing for three to four decades.”
A Steamboat native, Gleason has been a part of the community in almost every major way possible, holding positions on the SSWSC board of directors, Steamboat Springs School Board and Steamboat Springs City Council. Most recently, he’s been in charge of waxing the Sailors’ skis, which requires him to get on the snow before a race to evaluate the conditions and then apply the appropriate amount of wax.
His knowledge began developing in the late ’70s when he coached ski jumping for the SSWSC. He helped the cross country coach, and the cross country coach helped him. Every year since, Gleason has learned more and more about wax.
His knowledge was needed at this year’s state championships, where there was rapidly warming weather.
“It would change from one wax to another in a period of 30 to 45 minutes. What you try to do is outguess what is going to happen in two hours to get it right,” Gleason said. “In the temperature range we were skiing on Thursday, I have probably a combination of 25 to 30 different waxes that you can use in that temperature range. It depends on snow temperature and humidity. It depends on how long the snow has been on the ground. It depends on sunshine. It’s not a science. It’s an art.”
Unfortunately, on the first day of the state championships, Gleason was under the weather, leaving Wilkins and assistant Wil Chapple to figure out how to wax the skis. The two are familiar with waxing but not to the same extent as Gleason. It was even more difficult for the pair since the classic race was that day. Wilkins said one of the hardest thing he has to do is nail a classic ski kick wax.
“After that day was over, (Gleason) basically said, ‘Good job. You guys got it,’” Wilkins said. “That was nice to get that shot of confidence from Pat. He’s been working all season as Wil and I try to transfer most of what he knows. We’ll never get everything he knows, but we can get pretty close.”
Gleason’s favorite part of coaching was experiencing race day, especially since it brought back memories of when he was the one lining up at the start. Now, he does everything but race on race days.
“I run it,” Gleason said. “There’s so many different things that have to be done. You have to have somebody manage the team, pay entry fees, verify the race course, go to the team leaders meeting, those types of things. I get on the snow, I do the waxing and deal with the start and finish areas.”
The team is in good hands though, as Wilkins and Chapple led one of the largest and most successful group of skiers this winter, and Gleason knows they are more than capable of carrying on his duties in the future.
The veteran isn’t totally vanishing, though. He hopes to remain somewhat attached to the program.
Gleason said the city is in the process of potentially replacing the Barrows lift on Howelsen Hill, as well as the yurt at the base of it, out of which the high school Nordic team operates. Gleason hopes to be heavily involved in that discussion and lobby for the yurt to be replaced with a building that the team can use in the future.
“I think I have the pull,” Gleason said. “I think I may have a little bit of some background, some information to get what the program needs over there.”
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