VAIL, Colorado - Coach Dan Weiland was amazed by the record-sized crowd at Wednesday's Nordic Town Series opening race.
A group of 50 or so racers braved the zero-degree temps to compete in the 20-minute freestyle event, the first in a five-race Nordic skiing competition that's an annual tradition in Vail.-
"This is a pretty big field for us, considering we didn't put any fliers out or anything," Weiland said as the race was starting. "I sent out an email at like 3 o'clock this afternoon but that's it ... this is three times the size of the normal field."
With the town series as a microcosm of the program itself, SSCV's Nordic branch is growing successfully and in the right direction, attracting athletes like Wednesday night's winner, Cal Deline.
"He's the top J1 in the United States right now," said Weiland, "and one of the best overall juniors in the country."
To pull off the win, Deline had to battle it out with No. 2 finisher Tony Ryerson, also a Ski and Snowboard Club Vail alum.
"On the final lap Cam and I were butting elbows the whole time, switching off the lead, stepping on each other's skis," said Ryerson. "It was really fun. The dark made it even more dramatic because you couldn't even see what you were doing ... no one wanted to lead at first, it was so cold and windy."
But Deline and the racers weren't the only ones braving the cold. Spectators like Sally Darlington were on the sidelines, cheering on the competitors and trying to stay warm.-
"It's a great group of folks here," said Darlington. "The hearty souls, the people that want to do the crazy things."
Darlington's children, Nathan Maddox, 16, and Samantha "Bob" Maddox, 17, from Eagle Valley High School, were among the competitors.
"They're into it, and they're all around other kids who are just like that," she said. "It's fun because you know all the kids, you know all the parents, and it's all part of this really great group of positive people."
Darlington is originally from Massachusetts, but moved out to the Vail Valley before having Samantha and Nathan. She said this season, she's been really enjoying coverage of Vail's 50th anniversary from publications like the new Vail 50th magazine.
"It's been so interesting to read about the folks that were here in the very beginning," she said. "They all had the same pioneer spirit of wanting to create something. And it became this, wow ... there's stuff happening everywhere, it's a really great place for the kids to grow up."
Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Weiland is one of those kids who grew up here in the Vail Valley. Now the program director for Ski and Snowboard Club Vail's Nordic division, he says he's glad to have crossed paths with one of those visionary people who want to create something great at Vail, like the people Darlington was talking about.-
"We walked into the club and said we want to create a Nordic program and Aldo (Radamus, SSCV Executive Director) said 'absolutely,'" Weiland said. "I grew up Nordic skiing in Vail, and even though I felt like I was pretty talented, it was me going out on my own and doing it solo because we just don't have the history for Nordic here like alpine does. Aldo gave us the vision and the motivation and the financial means to build a facility out in Minturn that we train on every day. We have our own snowcat, we have our own grooming equipment, and that all adds up."
'Fun and fitness'
Pro mountain biker Jay Henry has been watching Weiland's program evolve. Henry, an Eagle resident and former USA Cycling 24-hour National Cross Country Ultra Endurance champion, enjoys Nordic skiing as a way to stay fit in the winter and entered Wednesday's race "for fun and fitness," he said.-
"I went out and put in an effort harder than any mountain bike race I'll ever do and no one knows but me," he said.
While there was once a time when Henry could hang with the local Nordic skiers, he said those days have passed thanks to the success of Weiland's program.
"Now so many kids have been in this program, then they go off and ski in college and come back for winter break and compete in this race, which is great to see," said Henry. "Through the years, they've continually gotten to a higher and higher level. I remember there was a day when I could hang with the high school kids, and now they've got me. I can't compete with these kids."
Weiland said the club's future is bright.-
"So now, with a kid like Cal, he's got the opportunity," Weiland said. "You bring the right athletes to the right place, and have the right equipment and the right facilities, the sky's the limit. That's where we're at right now."