Forte takes over for Vail Yeti heading into 2022-23 season
Season opens against Jackson Hole on Dec. 2
New owner, new direction, new season — same team.
That’s the theme for the Vail Yeti, the valley’s senior-A hockey team, going into the 2022-23 season-opener on Friday night against Jackson Hole. The puck drops at 7:45 p.m. at Dobson Arena as Kyle Forte, the owner of the VSSA youth hockey academy and former director of the Vail Mountaineers, looks to bring a community-first vision to the community-based club.
“We want to be a community-based hockey team that’s using our platform to uplift and promote local businesses and local nonprofits to get our community deeper involved in what we’re doing,” said Forte, who remembers hearing tales of the original Vail Mountaineers, the area’s first senior-A group, when he first moved to the valley five years ago.
“It was the only thing to do at night,” he recalled, hoping to hearken back to the spirit of the original team’s place as the “affordable family-fun entertainment” option for locals and guests. If that’s the sales pitch, Forte — who returns to Vail after a three-year full-time video coaching role he was cherry picked for with the Kalamazoo K-Wings (the ECHL affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks) — said the “real tagline” is “Your town, your team.”
“We want to support our community,” the 31-year-old Ohio-native said. “In a weird way, the Vail Yeti is a community amenity. We are that affordable entertainment that helps stimulate our economy in a different way.”
Support Local Journalism
Not everything will be different this year, though. For starters, tickets are still $10, as long as you buy online (they’re $15 at the door). Once you’re in Dobson, the actual roster will also look familiar, as the team brings back many athletes from previous seasons. Of the 47 athletes at tryouts three weeks ago, 37 had local ties.
“They all seem very excited about the change and are excited about the new direction,” Forte remarked. “That’s been a nice piece because of the relationship I had with the guys; I knew a lot of the players from when I lived here before.”
New and improved for 2022: Every Saturday night is family night and charity night — “we’re going to partner with local foundations and nonprofits and use our unique platform to get their word and mission out,” Forte said — and kids under 12-years-old get in free.
“That’s a big change a lot of people are excited about,” Forte said. “A family of four can come to a game for $20.”
Another new item: Vail Health’s Howard Head Sports Medicine has been announced as the official sports performance and physical therapy provider.
“We are thrilled to enter this new partnership with the Vail Yeti Hockey and look forward to providing elite-level performance services and game-day medical services to these exceptional athletes,” said Mary Ellen Broersma, Vice President of Howard Head Sports Medicine, in a recent press release.
As part of the partnership, Howard Head Sports Medicine will provide sport-specific physical therapy, before, during and after games, for Vail Yeti athletes at all 19 Friday and Saturday night home games.
“An onsite training room will be available to provide maintenance therapy, triage injuries and offer medical coverage during games. Throughout the season, athletes will also participate in a sports optimization program led by the Howard Head Performance team,” stated the release.
“The program will include a pre and post-sports performance assessment as well as hockey-specific group training sessions aimed to not only increase performance on the ice but also keep the athletes healthy throughout the season.”
The 2022-23 schedule is filled with a few of the Yeti’s old nemeses. The first meet-up with the Breckenridge Vipers is Dec. 17. They’ll also face the Boulder Bison, Calumet Wolverines, New York Fire Department, Denver Leafs and the Phoenix Desert Dogs.
With a life spent playing and coaching hockey, Forte believes his stints at various levels, in a wide-range of communities, positions him well to lead the Yeti. While his VSSA gig allowed him to instruct and grow the game with individual players when he launched in 2018, it didn’t allow him to scratch the team setting itch.
“This rounds out my life,” he said. He’ll also take over Bill Foster’s Yeti coaching duties this year.
“I’m super excited. Obviously, it’s been a massive piece of my life and to be able to — just like the players — continue playing, after they’ve kind of transitioned out of ‘chasing it, chasing it,’ if you will,” he said. “I get to do the same thing. I get to do something that I love. I get to be involved with a fun group of guys. It’s like heaven.”
Seeing that the game has dictated his life’s direction so far, Forte figures he won’t change the formula, except now, he expects ice hockey to lock him in longterm.
“This is the thing that’s going to ground me, really. Between the school and the Yeti, I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to stay,” he said. “Couldn’t be happier to be back.”
The community he hopes to pour the organization back into is the very reason he returned.
“Vail brought me back here and Vail is what encouraged me to buy this hockey team, this community and these people,” he said. “Because this gives me the opportunity to spend the rest of my life here and raise children here.”