Telluride Junior Nordic program flourishes

The Telluride Junior Nordic team at the Junior Nordic Qualifier in Steamboat Springs this year. (Photo courtesy of Deanna Drew)

In 2017, local Nordic skiing enthusiasts Deanna Drew and the late Ivar Eidsmo combined forces to launch a youth Nordic program in Telluride. Telluride Nordic Association (TNA) promised to provide seed money to the program for the first three years, while the Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club (TSSC) embraced the program as its own. Now in its sixth year, the Junior Nordic (JN) team comprises 56 student athletes, primarily in grades 3-6, who develop classic and skate skiing skills through developmental and competitive training programs.

“Ivar primarily devoted time and expertise to coordinate with the PE classes and helped teach the instructors and manage the rental fleet,” recounted TNA board member and volunteer JN coach Lois Major. “And Deanna did all of the heavy lifting. Hiring Head JN Coach Wayne Clark made the big difference and is probably why we continue to flourish. Wayne pours his heart and soul into the team.”

The JN developmental team trains two days a week from December through February, using games and adventuring to develop balance, turning and agility on skis. Having started the season with a training camp in West Yellowstone over Thanksgiving week where athletes skied over 200k, the competitive team trains up to four times a week in more structured interval sessions, videoing drills for technique analysis before joining the rest of the team to play games.

This season a core competitive race team of JN athletes includes Wylee and Gunnar Drew, and CJ Horning — who’ve made it to every Junior Nordic Qualifier (JNQ) event this season — along with Ansel Bartell, Topher and Kyle Horning, and Sean McKillop, who’ve attended many of the JNQs.

“For JNQs, athletes race one day classic and one day skate, and their finishes are averaged into point places,” explained Clark. “The top 6-10, depending on division, qualify for Junior Nationals, where we could have three qualifiers next year, as Wylee, Gunnar and CJ have had an amazing year of training, and next year all that pays off.”

While he doesn’t run his team with the goal of athletes eventually competing in college, Clark envisions some of the top JN athletes racing in college, noting that Denver, Boulder, Montana, Dartmouth and the University of Vermont currently have the most competitive Nordic programs.

Having trained with the Durango Nordic team during their high school years in Telluride, two Telluride High School students have gone on to compete competitively in Nordic skiing during college: Anna Fake raced for Montana State University, and Rachel Hampton raced for Harvard.

Clark reported that local recruiting efforts have gone well, as the JN team now has 12 paid and volunteer coaches on staff.

“I’m pretty stoked with this year’s coaching staff, as it’s a very knowledgeable group that I can see staying for next year,” he said.

During the winter season, JN athletes tend to participate in other sports, especially in various disciplines within TSSC, which serves as the competitive arm for the JN team. Like all of its disciplines, TSSC hires, pays and trains the coaches, provides insurance, vehicles for travel, an indoor training facility, storage space for equipment, a waxing facility, and covers USSS dues and fees.

“They’re a rare breed, Nordic skiers — tough, passionate and enthusiastic — both the athletes and the coaches,” enthused TSSC Executive Director Justin Chandler. “Nordic is a great sport for kids, whether it becomes their main discipline or a way to cross train for other winter sports or for other endurance sports like biking, track and cross country running.”

Earlier this month, 20 athletes from the JN team participated in the Butch Cassidy Race hosted by the TNA with a good number achieving podium finishes.

“The athletes did extremely well, and they were competing against members of the Durango Nordic Team, which also competes in the Rocky Mountain Division JNQ races,” noted Clark.

While Nordic is the least expensive among skiing disciplines, it still brings a high price tag for families. In late January, the annual, week-long JN ski-a-thon, where athletes earn donations per kilometer they ski, yielded vital funding for the JN team. The JN program is also the beneficiary of a “Ski Like Ivar” memorial fund in honor of one of the founders of the JN program, Ivar Eidsmo.

“When Ivar got sick, he asked for people to donate to TNA with the goal that money was used for supporting the junior Nordic community,” explained Clark. “We would be in a very different spot right now if it wasn’t for Ivar.”

Together, 100 percent of these funding sources support payments for sportswear, practice snacks, scholarships for athletes, upkeep of the rental fleet, and wax and wax benches.