Rebuilding the Roller Dolls: Next steps for local roller derby
10th Mountain Roller Dolls seek numbers to bout
In 2011, as a byproduct of Denver’s “golden age” of roller derby, a little roller derby league sprouted up right here in Eagle County and made headway in the world of the female-dominated contact sport. However, in the past few years, the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls have been seeing less momentum and more challenges. A handful of passionate skaters are aiming to change that.
While not a mainstream sport, roller derby has seen waves of popularity and in Denver in the 2010s, roller derby was more popular and better than ever. In 2011, Denver team Rocky Mountain Roller Girls won the National Championship and had five skaters on Team USA for the first-ever Roller Derby World Cup in Canada. After that, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association saw leagues forming across Colorado, including the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls.
Together, locals laced up quad roller skates and took to the track to learn how to play the sport that was turning everyday people into derby alter egos.
Robin “Zen Blaster” Nash has been involved with the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls since its 2011 establishment. She said that with world-class roller derby athletes nearby, those taking to the sport in Eagle County had some of the best players to look up to.
“We couldn’t play at that level, but it was really inspiring to be able to see that almost in our backyard,” Nash said.
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Whether going to watch games or attending workshops hosted by Denver roller derby leagues, Nash said those in 10th Mountain Derby Dolls were always learning from teams that have “consistently been in the top three or top five in the world.”
“We would just learn what we could from them,” Nash said. “Whenever they would have boot camps for skills, we would usually have multiple skaters go down and then take notes and bring that information back and share it with the team.”
So, with the Roller Dolls, roller derby skills and knowledge bled out of Denver and into mountain communities nearby. Alayna Push “Push,” head coach of the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls, said skaters from all over Eagle County, Summit, Glenwood Springs, Rifle and even Leadville have made their way out to practices.
At its height, the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls were impressive considering their rural roller derby league status. Push noted that in March 2020, the last month with official rankings within the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the league ranked 97th in the world.
“There were probably close to 600 teams, so we were pretty stoked about that,” Push said.
While not making the Division 2 cutoff, the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls still rubbed elbows with Division 2 and Division 1 top 40 teams off-track. Most notably, the Roller Dolls held the Melee in the Mountain tournament at the Dobson Arena in Vail.
Just a year after its establishment, the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls welcomed skaters and officials worldwide to a weekend of back-to-back sanctioned Roller Derby bouts — an event that would return annually. Push explained that Melee in the Mountain really put the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls on the map in an almost serendipitous fashion.
“Spud Town is an Idaho tournament that was canceled one year,” Push said. “So, we were one of the best western tournaments to go to.”
Push also mentioned that the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls were lucky to practice in a location beautiful enough that people would be inclined to come out and play a tournament.
“Being able to say, ‘Hey, would you come officiate our tournament, we’ll provide a hotel room in Vail for you,’ we got really great officials from all over who wanted to come and wanted to partake and wanted to help,” Push said.
Nash said thanks to the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls’ location and relationships, the tournament let players learn quickly and move up within the sport while also getting more eyes on the league and therefore, more people involved.
Unbeknownst to the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls at the time, 2019 marked the fifth and potentially final Melee in the Mountains.
Push said the tournament won’t be returning this upcoming year, but she said she hopes to see the league’s numbers grow in 2023 so they can sustain an event like Melee in the Mountains and get back on that upward momentum as a team.
Just like worldwide roller derby rankings froze in March 2020 with the onset of COVID-19, so did the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls’ participation.
“It’s been kind of sad, we’re getting inquiries, constant inquiries about playing teams we used to play and they’re trying to get back out there and they’re like ‘Oh, we totally get it, we’re trying to regrow from COVID too,’ and I’m like, ‘You don’t get it, you have a team to play. We don’t have anything,’” Push said. “It’s always hard to answer those messages because I’m like, ‘it’s not that we don’t want to do it, it’s that there are only a few of us who want to do it.’”
Push said there are many factors that could influence the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls’ dramatic reduction in numbers following its revival this fall.
One challenge the league faced with getting things rolling again was the lack of a consistent practice space. Before the pandemic, the league routinely would use the Eagle Ice Rink sport court in summers and the Mountain Recreation Edwards Fieldhouse in winters. With facility changes, the Mountain Recreation Edwards Fieldhouse is no longer suitable for roller derby practices, so the league has moved its winter operations to Edwards Early Learning Center.
Recent availability of communal skating in Glenwood Springs may have also dramatically reduced the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls’ roster.
“It’s really hard right now because they have their own recreation thing going on with people who used to skate with us,” Push said. “We don’t have anything bad with them, it’s just that they’re kind of doing that over there, and it’s just hard because we’re not all coming together and skating together.”
In an attempt to combat their wavering numbers, the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls’ winter practices look a little different this year. Instead of practicing plays and techniques that would be useful in a game, Eagle County’s local roller derby league is inviting community members 18 and older to join practices Wednesday evenings at Edwards Early Learning Center for on-skate workouts.
“The idea with that was to be inclusive and get people to come and get skates on and just have a nice option besides the standard run-of-the-mill options in the valley for cross-training for other sports, or if you don’t do other sports, it’s a good way to stay in shape and it’s affordable.”
The league has an ultimate goal of growing its players, but the skate fitness practices’ $10 drop-in fee helps the Roller Dolls pay for the facility and could help get the word out about roller derby to those who are interested in joining.
“There’s definitely people in the valley who enjoy doing all different kinds of sports,” Nash said. “So, we just have to find them and get them involved.”