By Josh Kurz
Skate Ski Club
Buried under a blanket of snow, the Pagosa Springs High School athletic fields are usually desolate and dormant during the winter months. However, this winter there’s been a flurry of new activity. High school students are putting the snow to good use as they zip around the fields on skate skis.
Recently, the Pagosa Springs community provided our high school students with the opportunity to participate in an after-school skate ski club. The tremendous support we’ve received showcases our community’s cooperation, generosity and shared vision of providing new and unique opportunities for our youth.
The idea of the high school skate ski club originated in early December 2019. The first low-elevation snowstorm of the season covered Pagosa Springs with few inches of wet snow and left frigid temperatures in its wake. The next day, anxious to start the skate ski season, I skipped my lunch and strapped on my skate ski gear instead. To my delight, the crusty, ungroomed surface held my weight and I enjoyed about 20 minutes of efficient gliding around the athletic fields.
As a former high school cross-country and track team coach, it was always a challenge to keep our runners in shape over the winter if they didn’t participate in wrestling or basketball. I imagined that if we found some ski gear and groomed the athletic fields, we could provide kids with another wintertime athletic opportunity, which could transition into a lifelong form of exercise.
After a couple more days of skating at lunch, I floated the idea to our athletic director, Marcie Ham, who was immediately supportive. When I pitched the idea to head cross-country coach Rachael Christiansen, she volunteered to be a club sponsor without hesitation. Since then, Christiansen has been invaluable in generating the club framework and recruiting our student body.
Next, we reached out to James Dickoff, founder of the Pagosa Nordic Club, who aspired to expand the club’s reach to our youth. He speculated that he could dedicate equipment as well as find Nordic Club volunteers to groom the high school athletic fields.
The highest hurdle was obtaining skate ski gear. Most kids have never heard of skate skiing and they aren’t going to buy equipment for a sport they’ve never tried. To get the program off the ground, we’d need to be able to offer ski gear for kids to try.
Then, in late August of 2020, Dickhoff contacted us with great news. He said the Pagosa Nordic Club was willing to raise funds to purchase ski gear for the high school club. Within a week, Dickhoff informed us that the community had donated enough funds to purchase 12 sets of ski gear. A week later, the 12 sets of ski gear turned into 20 sets.
After receiving our boot size request, Dan Park volunteered to order and assemble the equipment, which, like bikes in a pandemic, would sell out of stock. Park worked diligently to secure the gear and make sure it was ready for the first snow.
The next step was finding a volunteer who was willing to groom the athletic fields frequently. Up stepped Lance Thorton, special education teacher at the high school. Thorton is generous with his time and possesses incredible initiative. He has faithfully groomed the fields several times per week since early January.
Over winter break, I ran into Lindsay Kurt-Mason while skiing at Cloman Community Park. I told him that our club was stocked with fresh gear. He mentioned that he’d always dreamed of grooming and skating the high school fields with high schoolers. He promptly joined Christiansen and I and his expertise has been invaluable in teaching our brand new skiers the difficult technique of skating.
As the snow began to accumulate in early January and the school district transitioned to in-person instruction, we held our first official skate ski practice. As our numbers increased, we ran out of mid-range boot sizes. Just in time, the Durango Nordic Club donated about a dozen used boots to increase our inventory.
Since then, we’ve been meeting three days a week for an hour after school with anywhere from 10 to 15 kids. We have also had parents of younger kids express interest in involving the younger grade levels in the future.
Christiansen, Kurt-Mason and I want to express our gratitude to Ham, Dickhoff, Park, Thorton, Pagosa Nordic Club, Durango Nordic Club and especially those within our community that donated funds to purchase our ski gear. In light of the challenges our kids have faced during the pandemic, the skate ski club has provided a much-needed screen break and breath of fresh air for a handful of kids within our student body. We are grateful for our incredibly generous and supportive community.