Summit County locals may be venturing out for elite international competitions as far as 6,000 miles away on the slopes of Phoenix Snow Park at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, but developments right here at home will also play a pivotal role in our sports culture this new year.
So as Summit County sports fans embark on 2018, we’ve selected seven storylines to keep an eye on through next December. Here are numbers four through seven, stories that will play out on the home front:
4) What will the Frisco Nordic Center of the future look like?
The town of Frisco’s last-second save in December of the elite Rocky Mountain Region Junior Olympic qualifiers cross-country skiing event, one that was originally slated for Breckenridge, told us two things.
One: The town and the center have the leaders, work ethic and snowmaking infrastructure to put on large-scale regional events despite non-ideal conditions.
Two: In a winter sports world where some locations are increasingly canceling events due to warm weather, the Frisco Nordic Center could be a top regional destination with improved snowmaking and facilities.
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The center’s second-year manager and three-time Olympic Nordic skier Jim Galanes is well aware of this and as a result is currently working with the town to figure out just what the Nordic center should consist of and how it should serve its community and customers in the years ahead.
Last month, Galanes said he was in the process of leading the finalization of a master plan for the center that the town asked him to put together as a consultant. Potentially including renovating and redesigning 10 to 15 kilometers of the center’s 27 kilometers of trails, installing a new stadium location and installing piping for much more efficient snowmaking operations, the plan may resemble a 10-to-20-year vision for the Nordic center.
Just what the Galanes-led vision may look like should be finalized early in 2018. But under Galanes’ leadership, the center in recent years has also introduced free coaching sessions for locals and a wide-ranging series of clinics and teaching programs.
Through the rest of this winter season, those events will include expanded offerings such as a free intermediate/advanced Community Nordic Workout series. With an event like this, the center’s goal is simple: to create a community of skiers who can enjoy the sport together at no cost to Summit County residents who already possess a day or season pass. The center will also host two Introduction to Skijoring events, the Frisco Cup Ski Races, Women’s Skate Ski Clinics and two Full Moon Snowshoe Tours. It’ll all lead up to the nearly half-century-old Frisco Gold Rush, the state’s longest running Nordic event, on Feb. 3.
Then there is the continuation of relatively new events, such as the second annual Frisco Freeze Fat Bike Race on Feb. 10 and the third annual Frisco BrewSki happy hour ski tour a month later on March 10.
5) Can Summit girls rugby make it 11 in a row?
Senior team captain, Rugby Colorado state player of the year and All-American Cassidy Bargell may depart, but much like in previous years, Summit Black head coach Karl Barth brings back much talent from both his Summit White junior squad and his state championship Summit Black team. It’s one that ran away from their top rival Westside Swarm of Denver by a score of 50-7 in the state championship game, rattling off those 50 consecutive points after Swarm opened the title game scoring.
The 2017 season was one of proving themselves once again for Summit Black, as heading into the season only two members of the 2016 state championship team returned: Bargell and her fellow senior first-team all-state selection Clara Copley. But the team quickly found togetherness and confidence, losing only once on the season while they earned the Rugby Colorado sportsmanship award by season’s end.
Part of the pieces that made the 2017 team so cohesive will also return in 2018, such as first team all-state selections in 2017 junior Cece Pennell and 2017 sophomore PK Vincze.
To Barth, 2017 was also a season that saw other programs across the state, such as their state semifinal opponent Fort Collins, rise up further in Rugby Colorado’s second-ever 7s-only season. Fort Collins was the team that perhaps gave Summit Black the most trouble on state title day, playing a physical brand of rugby in a 34-0 loss.
But for Summit Black, other talented players, such as sophomore Nicole Kimball, will return to round out the lineup’s veterans while Summit White players such as Izzy Keller, Abby Daugherty, Logan Simson and Brissa Veleta are set to rise up after leading Summit White to a strong season of their own in the fall.
6) Is Summit football in store for a winning season?
It was an emotional scene of hugs and goodbyes under Friday night lights for Summit High School football seniors such as wide receiver Vale Hildebrand, quarterback Jake Gillum and wide receiver Jason Tilley when the Tigers walked off the field for the final time this year on a chilly Nov. 3 night.
Ending the season at 3-7 might not seem like a step forward for the program, but the Tigers capped head coach John Shirkey’s second year with a never-say-die effort that night in an enthralling 32-24 loss versus Battle Mountain.
Spearheading the Tigers effort that night was Summit High freshman Noah Martens, a spark-plug freshman running back and linebacker who ran for 72 yards and a touchdown while also showing he’s an adept tackler and kick returner.
The Tigers 2017 senior group may have included proven and prideful players such as Hildebrand, Tilley and linebacker Dylan Lane, but overall Shirkey will return one of the most dynamic all-purpose weapons in Martens and other underclassmen contributors such as senior-to-be Brendan Collins and one of the team’s top tacklers in rising junior lineman Will Drewes.
There is also the element of both returning quality and quantity for the program, as Shirkey has built up the Tigers to have more than 35 players return for next year. Building a culture of accountability and aspiration over his first two years, Shirkey’s win total in his first two seasons equaled the program’s total wins from 2012 through 2015.
In the driver’s seat for his third go-round, the best may be yet to come for Shirkey and Summit High football as they shoot for the program’s first winning season since 2011.
7) How big will Lake Dillon’s arctic char be by year’s end?
As of this fall, the new state record for Arctic char was 23.5 inches and 4.15 pounds, caught by a Virginia woman in Lake Dillon, guided by Summit County fishing guru Randy Ford.
But looking beyond, Ford believes 6-to-7-pound char will be caught in the years ahead, perhaps even as big as 15 pounds in a decade.
It’s been a decade since Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Jon Ewert began stocking tens of thousands of char in Lake Dillon per year. And Ford is convinced that with the aged char now feeding on some kokanee salmon and fingerling rainbow trout, it remains to be seen how quickly the char will double and even triple in size.
It also remains to be seen how much more popular Arctic char fishing becomes on Lake Dillon with the bigger sized fish. Don’t be surprised to see the state record broken over and over again in 2018.
“It could be more of a resource locally and more of a showcase for cold water mountain reservoirs in Colorado, if it’s a destination fishery,” Ewert said in November. “We’d like to see it be a little more developed and make more use of it than we have in last few decades.”