Olympic trainees can be found darting up trails in Chautauqua Park while competitive ski racers zoom down snow-covered mountains at the nearby Eldora ski resort. In addition to the many star athletes who live here, Boulder County is home to winter sports enthusiasts who just love to get outside to enjoy the sun and snow. Given Boulder’s close proximity to ski and snowboarding resorts such as Eldora, Vail, Breckenridge, and Loveland, the county offers ample opportunities for residents of all ages to get outdoors during the winter season in order to have some fun!
For this winter sports article, I interviewed a combination of star athletes and down-to-earth Boulderites who have an intrinsic love for a winter sport, be it skiing, snowboarding, or ice climbing. Interviewees were asked what motivated them to engage in their chosen sport, how their winter sport prepared them for life challenges, and what competitions to look forward to in the coming year, among other questions. What they all shared were a passion for the outdoors, a desire to push boundaries, discipline, perseverance, and focus. We hope these interviews inspire you to get your ski boots on this winter!
My name is Nathan Schultz. Age 48, Boulder.
What is the Main Winter Sport that you Engage in and Why?
I have been a cross country skier for 35 years. I enjoy the winter. I enjoy being active. I enjoy exploring new places, where skiing can take us. As long as I can remember, I have been skiing.
Can you tell me about some competitions you have participated in?
I was a professional ski racer for 20 years. I raced in high school, and in college and then I raced professionally, after college. At the national level, my best ranking in the U.S. was 5th place.
I have raced all over the world. I had the opportunity to ski on four different continents. I competed in Argentina. New Zealand. Europe. Canada.
How do you think that being a competitive skier has helped you face challenges in life in general?
Being an athlete keeps you disciplined. It makes you persistent. Hard work. It has also brought me a team of people I would call lifelong friends. I have a community of people, all over the world, with whom I can get advice from.
What motivated you to become a competitive skier?
When I started, I was not that good… but, I travelled around Colorado and I practiced… and I became better and better. I developed my skills over time.
In what ways is Boulder County conducive for athletes to practice their sport?
There are so many endurance athletes in Boulder. There are a lot of people to train with. There are great resources. We have great running trails and cycling routes. The altitude is good, favorable for training for endurance sports.
What ideas do you have for young people who have an interest in becoming a competitive skier?
I think there are a lot of programs for young people – in schools for example, in the mountains, where there is snow. We are getting kids engaged by bringing them ski equipment. It is important for parents to get out with their kids and be active. There are a number of junior clubs throughout the state – 11 or 12 junior clubs. Most of those have year-round ski training for kids.
What competitive events should the public be looking for this coming year?
It’s pretty exciting—there is a world cup ski race in Minnesota this year- (the 2020 Coop FIS Cross Country Ski World Cup). It is the first time there is a world cup ski race in the U.S. since 2001. That is exciting. The U.S. team is competing very strongly compared to where they have in the past.
My name is Catherine Alexandra Darrow and I am 17. I live in Lyons.
What winter sport do you engage in and why?
Snowboarding. I started skiing when I was three, but didn’t really fall in love with winter sports until I tried snowboarding. I was better at snowboarding, so I continued to build up my skills. And then, when I was 13 I joined the Eldora Mountain Ski and Snowboard Team. Snowboarding became a great hobby for me.
I understand that you have a disability (autism) – what advice would you give others with a disability about getting involved in a sport as a way to learn how to overcome obstacles and challenges?
You will need to build self-awareness and outside awareness. It is important to be a good sport and not brag a lot. Perseverance and commitment are good qualities to have whether you have a disability or not. When I have trouble being flexible or when something happens outside of my routine, I have to remember what my goals are and that I have to push through doing things that are hard.
I understand that you will be going to Austria for an international competition- do you want to tell me a bit more about this competition?
We are going to Kappl, Austria. I heard that it is going to be on a very steep terrain. I am ranked in the top 10 in the United States in my age group (15-18yrs). The competition in Austria is only for ages 15-18. They have men’s and women’s snowboarding and men’s and women’s freeskiing categories. They said that athletes from over 15 countries will be attending. I’m really nervous but really excited at the same time.
Can you tell me about some other competitions that you have participated in?
- Invited to compete in Freeride Junior World Championships in Kappl, Austria in January 2020.
- Invited to compete in the 2019 IFSA North American Junior Freeride Championships (didn’t attend)
- 2019 Taos IFSA Junior National –
- Vail Junior Regional 2019 – 1st place
- 2019 Breckenridge Helly Hansen Challenge Junior Regional – 2nd place
- 2018 Breckenridge Helly Hansen Challenge Junior Regional – 1st place
Alpine Snowboarding (GS and SL)
- 2019 USASA Nationals-5th SL,
- 2018 USASA Nationals-14th SL,
- 2017, 2018, 2019: Gold medals in SL and GS in both Regional and State competitions
I went to the 2019 ISSA Junior National Championship and I got second place. And at the Vail Junior regional championship in 2019 I got first place. For the 2019 Breckenridge Helly Hansen Challenge Junior Regional, I got second place. For the 2018 Breckenridge Helly Hansen Challenge Junior Regional, I won first place. I won that one! I competed against three other girls- and I ended up winning. It was a big accomplishment.
Do you think that your engagement in competitive snowboarding has made you better face challenges in life?
Yes, it has. It makes me strong. I also do running—it makes me stronger. I have learned perseverance. I never give up until the task is done. I am happy that I have high perseverance.
What motivates you?
What really motivates me is getting out to the world…and really showing the world what I am capable of. One of my strengths is snowboarding. It is through snowboarding that I can show the world how much I enjoy life. What is fun about snowboarding is going downhill, really fast. I feel like I am flying. It is fun to break the rules of nature.
What ideas do you have for encouraging other young people who want to engage in winter sports?
My advice is to work hard and persevere. Don’t quit! It may hurt, but the real pain comes from quitting.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I want to snowboard competitively as long as I can. I want to keep traveling and seeing new places. I’d love to work hard and go to the Olympics one day. I’ve dreamed for a long time about traveling the world as a snowboarder.
What does the future of the snowboarding sport look like to you?
I think our sport is growing in the United States, but we need more girls! I don’t see many girls- especially girls who are fifteen to eighteen years old.
My name is Rachel Celesta and I am 27 years old. I grew up in, and currently live in, Boulder. I work for the Eldora Mountain Ski and Snowboard Club, a 501 c3 non-profit.
What is the winter sport that you play? Why?
Snowboarding. I grew up skiing and I enjoyed that when I was younger… around age 10, I decided that I just wanted to be a snowboarder. It seemed so cool. I learned. However, it was expensive. At 19, I started teaching snowboarding at the Loveland Ski Resort. From there, I started teaching and coaching adaptive snowboarding. I worked at the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center and I learned how to guide people who have a hard time seeing snowboarding or hard of hearing. From there, I became a coach for young people.
Have you ever participated in any competitions?
I’ve participated in low key ones, without much judging. I have judged a few competitions – primarily for kids.
In what ways is Boulder County conducive to Snowboarding?
Boulder is close to everything outdoors. You have hiking, cross training, mountain biking. Everyone loves to be outside.
How has participating in snowboarding helped you take on challenges in real life?
I always tell my athletes that snowboarding is half a physical sport and half a mental sport. You have to be mentally prepared to overcome the pitch of the slope or face difficult conditions. I think you learn how to face the challenges and hardships in life—things that are difficult in the beginning can end up being so much fun later on.
Can you tell me about the gender disparity in winter sports?
In the past years we have seen a growing number of women’s groups. One is the sisterhood of the Rockies. There are groups of girls and women getting together – they ride together and cheer each other on—overcoming the competition among women. Groups have been coming together in order to break that stereotype. I have met some of my best friends through snowboarding. There are definitely ladies out there trying to make the sport more inclusive.
What motivates you to snowboard?
I love being outside. It is exercise but it feels like you are having fun. I have made some of my best friends through snowboarding. I love meeting my friends – it is its own magical world.
What are your thoughts about ways to engage young people to play a winter sport like snowboarding?
Working with the Eldora club is a way to encourage kids to participate in winter sports. We offer a van for young people to go to and from the mountain so parents don’t have to go. We offer scholarships. It is such an expensive sport, and that can be a big barrier for young people. There are a lot of programs trying to make winter sports more accessible. There is the Burton Chill program that gives underserved youth from the city the chance to go snowboarding. There is a strong community—so if a young person came to me and said that they wanted to snowboard—I would look to my resources to help find them equipment, the gear, and a pass. When someone is very motivated, the community is there to support them. The Eldora club just started a new program this year- a lifelong learning course. We are getting into the school system in order to offer our programs at a lot cheaper rate. It gives kids the opportunity to try the sport.
My name is Patrick Gould, age 35. I work at the Norrona store in Boulder but I live in North Denver.
What is the Main Winter Sport that you Engage in and why?
Snowboarding. I grew up on the East Coast about an hour from the ocean, so I grew up as a beach bum and I loved board sports such as surfing and long boarding. When I moved out west I had to sacrifice the ocean, but I knew there were mountains I could slide down. It was a natural progression—to go from board sports to snowboarding.
Where do you go snowboarding?
I have the Ikon pass. I go to Eldora and I was there for opening day. I go to Winter Park. Three seasons ago I got into split boarding which is a snowboard which is split in half. You attach climbing skins onto it – so you have two planks so you can climb uphill – when you get to your destination you put it all together—and ride back downhill. That is one way you can snowboard in the back country.
In what ways is Boulder County conducive for you to snowboard?
Everybody is into getting outdoors. Everyone who walks into the store—you always have some common ground to talk about. When you get out to Eldora, you know that there are not many tourists out there, which gives the place a different vibe. There is always something to talk about—what part of Boulder are you from? What part of Denver are you from? Not, what part of Texas or Florida are you from. It’s nice to have local people to ride on the Lifts with. You look around and you have something in common with every single person.
What motivates you to snowboard?
It’s the feeling of sliding down sideways… that whole board sport thing. I wanted to be able to sense that again. Now, with the way they make bindings, boots, and the fun shapes they are coming out with for snowboards, you can get a surfy, playful feel out on the mountain. That is what I am looking for. Not straight lining or going as fast as possible. All different terrains, so getting into the trees. The views are spectacular. For example, if you are looking out at James Peak at Eldora – the views are incredible. Also, working for a ski shop, I can test out gear and when I come to work, I can say I used this piece and it worked phenomenal. There is the professional motivation, getting out to nature, and the pure, fun feeling of going down a hill.
In what ways has snowboarding helped you to tackle challenges and obstacles in life?
It gives you a break. We are always seeking a balance – whether in your professional life or your personal life. And then you get outdoors and your mind is fixated on the snowboarding. Same thing that I like about rock climbing. You can’t be distracted and think about other things.
I think giving yourself a break from your own self is very healthy. That is what snowboarding is for me.
Do you have thoughts on how other young people can become engaged in a winter sport?
I think that we all need to be challenged in some way. Whether it’s learning a new language or a new skill. It is tremendous for young people to take on a physical challenge and overcome challenges. Because on the first couple days of snowboarding, you get beat up. So, you are falling a lot. And then you have to pick yourself back up. Showing that you were not very good at something but that you were able to improve with practice and dedication—That parallels anything in life.
My name is Jordan Griffler and I am 31 years old. I live in Boulder.
What winter sport do you participate in?
A little bit of Nordic skiing. And ice climbing as well.
Tell us about ice climbing.
Basically, ice climbing is climbing frozen waterfalls. It is a fickle sport — things have to be just right. The snow has to melt at just the right time. Then freeze again and melt again and freeze again. So we spend the winter walking in the woods with big heavy back packs hoping to find ice – to climb these frozen waterfalls in the woods.
Can you tell me a bit about the equipment you use?
A lot of it is like standard rock climbing equipment. You have a harness, a rope — all that is the same. You wear a helmet. You have big clunky mountaineer boots close to ski boots. On your feet you wear crampons which includes spikes for your feet which allows you to kick into the ice. For your hands, you have tools such as an ice axe which is a snow climbing tool. Ice axes have gotten very evolved — radically shaped and downturned – super light-weight with big handles on them.
Then you are kicking your feet into the ice, and you get up a little ways, and then take an ice axe out and you will swing it over your head, get it to stick. You have two ice axes in your hand and crampons on your feet. You are protecting yourself during the ice climb with ice screws (they are these tubes with metal teeth on them and threads) when it is time to put some protection in, because you are now up in the air, you take these ice screws and screw them into the ice and clip your rope to that and that is what keeps you safe, if anything were to go wrong.
Tell us about your motivation to ice climb?
I would say that I am a reluctant ice climber. In high school I had aspirations to be an alpinist which is a combination of rock climbing, ice climbing, backpacking, and mountaineering. And, you try to climb these big mountains. I realized that if I want to climb the mountains that I want to climb I need to be skilled at ice climbing. We have good ice here. For me, it was about learning a skill I needed for my larger objectives in the mountain world. But it is also fun. It is really great to get outside and tromp around in the snow in Rocky Mountain National Park — it is just fun to get outside. To get out in the mountains in the deep winter is really great.
That said, there is a lot unpleasantness in ice climbing. The gear is very heavy. It is cold outside. Windy. You tromp through deep snow to find waterfalls. There is a certain tolerance that you need to have. It is almost absurd. It is so miserable and so cold. What are we doing out here climbing frozen waterfalls. We know how bad it is, but we know how fun it is too. We are willing tolerate such misery in order to have a great time, and it really brings people together.
People like to say, “you are an adrenaline junky.” For the people who practice ice climbing it is not about adrenaline. If you’ve gotten to the point of adrenaline, you’ve done things wrong to get to that place. It is more about staying in control, calm. We go to these risky places to exercise caution and focus and keep ourselves calm. It is the opposite of that adrenaline junky thing.
Do you think ice climbing has helped you overcome obstacles and challenges in life?
There is this very famous ice climber from the 80s and 90s named Mark Twight. He says something to the effect of “in modern reality tolerance is not appreciated.” You can find this quote in the book “Extreme Alpinism.” In the nineties this was the book that everyone read who was into climbing. In modern society we are tolerant averse. The mountains require quite a bit of tolerance. That is where you learn tolerance. Especially ice climbing—you are going to be outside, in the cold, wet, in the wind, your hands are going to freeze to the point where you can’t feel them anymore. It is the most painful thing that happens to you all day. Your feet are cold. You’re scared. You have to be incredibly tolerant. That kind of tolerance pays off in spades in the real world.
It sounds like a very male sport? Can you tell me more about the gender disparity in the sport?
This weekend we went out to the crag. There were two older women out there ice climbing. We are seeing this more and more. They were having a great time. I see more and more women in the sport every year. Yes, there are many men in the sport but it is changing.
When did the sport of ice climbing start?
The sport started in the 1800s when people were trying to climb Mont Blanc. They were chopping steps with alpine stocks. They would hack away steps in the ice. In the 70’s, with the Yvon Chouinard and Tom Frost. They introduced downward sloping picks for their ice tools – people could now climb steeper ice. In the 1980’s the sport progressed, using modern materials. In the 90s and 2000s they did away with leashes – so you would hang onto your tools – you would have a leash around your arm. In early 2000s, people realized, ‘why are we climbing with leashes in our hands? Why don’t we just hold onto these things?” That was the next big generational leap. These super advanced, super curved ice axes, without a leash, they are called leashless tools. That made ice climbing way easier for everybody.
How do you see the future of ice climbing?
I hope it gets cold again. Like everywhere, the mountains are at the forefront of global climate change. We as climbers have been watching glaciers recede, ice climbs not form, rock faces falling apart because they are not cold enough. We have the first-hand account of watching our climate change. We are very aware. Or, walking out on the Torre glacier for the last ten years. Every year the trail washes away a little more and the glacier recedes a little bit more. I think back — a ten-year period visiting the same mountain range — in my short lifetime I can see these changes very obviously. That is the real deal. And, you think about the Alps – major rock climbs falling apart because it is not getting cold enough.
Beyond that, the sport is going to continue growing. As it becomes more accessible – with the ice climbing parks and ice climbing festivals — hopefully more young people find the value in it. It is only going to continue to grow.
My name is Tyler Kempney. I am 28 years old and I live in Louisville.
What is the winter sport that you engage in? How long have you been involved?
Ice climbing. I have been ice climbing since 2013.
Have you participated in any competitions?
Yes, I compete in the world cup series. It is called ice climbing world cup and it is run by the UIAA. Usually there are between four to six competitions around the world in a year. They all take place on manmade structures that have ice climbing elements. Upcoming competitions will take place in Moscow, Changchun City, China, and Cheongsong, Korea.
Have you won any awards?
The Koreans and the Russians dominate the sport. No. last year was my first year in the competition circuit. I have gotten a lot better now that I know what I am training for. Now that I have an idea of what the world cups are, I think I will have a better shot.
How does it work when it comes to choosing who attends the world cup?
Each competition can have six athletes from each country. I can’t go to Moscow or Switzerland this year – so one of my teammates will be going to take my place.
What does Boulder County offer to ice climbers?
The county offers access. There isn’t much ice climbing in Boulder County. There is good access to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Good access to Wyoming. You have good access to Utah. And, we have a huge climbing community in Boulder. There is a push in the community for you to get better at your sport.
What motivates you to be an ice climber?
I really enjoy it. It is like rock climbing. In the competition scene, there is much more gymnastics. So it is really fun.
When I spoke with Jordon he called ice climbing a “fickle sport” – can you tell me more about that?
I guess you need to look at ice climbing competitions and ice climbing outside, like at Rocky Mountain National Park, as two different things. Ice climbing outside is very fickle. You have to have the right amount of water flow. If it snows too much there is the danger of avalanches. Last year we had a really great season in the high alpine areas. That season usually starts the first weekend in October, but this year due to the amount of rainfall, we didn’t get that high altitude ice this season. It is interesting to see how one year one spot will be great, and another year another spot will be great. It is always changing. The ice always forms differently every year.
Have you seen climate change impact your sport?
Definitely. You’re seeing ice come in where it has never come in before. You are also seeing some of the bigger alpiners that you used to be able to ice climb all the way to June. That is no longer the case anymore. In Boulder, over the past five years it hasn’t even been cold enough so that if you were to climb in Boulder Canyon you can’t because the ice hasn’t formed — it is too warm.