Team skiing is officially back at Durango High School.
After a two-decade hiatus, the Athletic Department announced the creation of a boys and girls Alpine ski team that will compete against other Colorado High School Activities Association ski teams.
The Durango team is led by longtime local coach Leah Lesage. The new program was revealed to students Jan. 2, and the team had its first race over the weekend at Beaver Creek with five skiers and two practices under its belt thanks to the recent rainfall soaking the temporary home practice facility at Chapman Hill.
Senior Lucas Robbins led the Demons’ boys squad with a fifth-place individual finish on the rutted and bumpy course, and DHS finished sixth out of eight teams in the school’s first race in two decades.
Robbins’ combined two-run time of 2 minutes, 15.89 seconds was six seconds behind Vail Mountain winner Michael Resnick. Freshman Miles Bronson posted 1:22 in his first run for DHS, but fell in the second run, and fellow freshman Austin Swan fell twice, but gained some valuable experience in his first ever competitive ski race.
In the girls race, freshman Maddie Jo Robbins led DHS with a fifth-place finishing time of 2:19.09, four seconds back of Battle Mountain’s Haley Frischholz. Sophomore Claudia Luthy was in the middle of the pack after a 1:21.49 first run, but fell on her second. With only two racers, the DHS girls finished eighth, but just having the kids out there again and representing the school is a big deal for the school and Athletic Director Adam Bright.
Bright saw the benefit of a school-sponsored team in his time in the same position at Winter Park High School. Much of the intrigue for the first-year DHS A.D. and Coach Lesage is the added opportunity a school team gives to students who might not otherwise have the means to compete.
“When I got here, I was thinking that this is such a huge ski town, the school needs a ski team,” Bright said. “We had an elite level club team in Winter Park, and the high school team was separate from that. Some kids qualified for state who never had the chance to compete at the club level. They just liked to ski, and they were good skiers, but couldn’t do the club circuit for whatever reason. I think we might have plenty of kids here in the same situation.”
Lucas Robbins is currently the team’s only senior. Lucas, and his sister Maddie Jo, have been working with Coach Lesage for years. But, with minimal time to dedicate to ski racing nowadays, Lucas feels like the new program is just the kind of thing he was looking for.
“I love to ski and this sounded like a low stress way of still being able to compete and have fun with it,” Robbins said. “Already having a connection with Leah played a huge role in me joining. I know she’s excited and she’s a great coach. It also gives us another outlet to show the rest of the state what Durango is all about.”
Lesage, who has two decades of coaching experience and 10 with Purgatory’s ski team, understands the grind of competitive club skiing. Her passion and local knowledge run deep and she is thrilled to have the opportunity to make the sport she loves more accessible.
“When you add in all the travel expenses, the time, and everything, club skiing is a big commitment for the kids and their families,” Lesage said. “We have a lot of young skiers around here and this will give them the chance to compete in the sport they love with some help from the school.”
Durango will ski a condensed scheduled this season consisting of five or six races. After Beaver Creek, the team will compete at other top ski destinations in the state, such as Keystone and Copper Mountain, before heading to the CHSAA State Championships in Steamboat Springs.
Bright is hoping the short schedule will help ease the “bumps and bruises” that come with introducing a new sport. The trial season will also pave the way for a DHS Nordic team as soon as next year.
As is often the case for the Durango High School sports teams, geography is one of the first obstacles to overcome. DHS is the only school in the region that has a ski team. The rest of the schools are all on the I-70 corridor, but Bright hopes to change that.
“If we can get one or two more schools in this area on board, it would help tremendously,” he said. “The long term hope is that we can get a few more schools, maybe Telluride and Pagosa Springs to get a team together, and we can get a Southwest Colorado league up and running again.”
For now, it’s just Durango, but, by CHSAA rule, students from surrounding areas are welcome to join the DHS team. Lesage is still accepting those who want to participate this season.
“My hope is that one day we’ll take buses full of high school skiers to these races,” Lesage said. “Even though we’re dealing with a short schedule this year, we get to go race at some cool places. The team aspect is also fun for the kids. Durango is such a supportive town when it comes to our love for outdoor sports, and I think it’ll just take off from here.”