After a successful regular-season finale at Loveland Ski Area last Friday, Durango High School ski team head coach Leah LeSage was impressed with the Demons.
The DHS ski team will send 12 skiers to the Colorado High School Activities Association’s state skiing championships this week at Beaver Creek, and three of the qualifiers were first-time racers this season.
For LeSage, it’s a promising sign that the program is heading in the right direction. Last year, Durango hosted the state ski championships at Purgatory Resort and had six qualifiers for both the boys and girls teams. This season, the team has more than doubled in size from 14 to 29, and LeSage believes that the team will only continue to grow in size.
“There’s plenty of excitement around ski team for the high school program,” LeSage said. “For anyone who has been around club racing, for the school to continue to support the program, it’s been amazing. The competition has been really good this year, and I think we benefited big time from hosting state last season. I think that with the support we’ve received, because it’s not an easy sport to sponsor, we will keep growing.”
With numbers up and more state qualifiers than ever before, the Demons are hopeful to earn podium positions in slalom and giant slalom. Last weekend at Loveland, Toby Scarpella helped the boys team to its first win of the season. He won the giant slalom with a two-run time of 1 minute, 19.08 seconds, and was 1.81 seconds faster than Summit High School’s Michael Cheek in 1:20.89.
Two other Demons finished in the top 15, as freshman Barron Bronson took seventh and senior Leland Heinicke finished 15th. The Demons scored 162 points in the win. Evergreen was second with 159, and Nederland was third with 156. On the girls side, Skylar Thorpe, a senior, has consistently been among the top 15 finishers and took 10th in 1:25.98.
Eight freshmen came out for the team this past season, and one, Ava McClellan, qualified for state in slalom racing. She was among the group that qualified with no previous racing experience.
There was also a large group of upperclassmen boys that joined the team for the first time after never having raced competitively, and two were able to qualify. Heinicke qualified in the slalom and giant slalom, while Aiden Simson, a junior, also qualified in both events.
The cost of skiing at the high school level as opposed to club is also a big reason why more skiers joined the team this season. LeSage said because of equipment, travel and hotel expenses, it costs the team around $5,000 per event to race. She added that the cost pales in comparison to what a club season could run.
“The cost is more often than not why a lot of kids switch to high school racing,” LeSage said. “The cost is way less than what it would be to compete as an alpine athlete year-round. That can run upwards of $20,000. For us, you have to have your own equipment, but just have to pay the activities fee. The school covers the travel, hotel, lift ticket and more. So when you put it all together, the school pays for most of it.”
While the alpine racers are performing well, the Nordic team never got out of the starting gates this season. The Demons had a coach who quit four days into the season, and LeSage was unable to find a replacement in time.
“That was tough because I know how big of a Nordic community we have here,” LeSage said. “There seems to be a disconnect with club and high school Nordic, and I just don’t understand why we can’t figure it out. The talent from the Nordic athletes is there, and we’ve done really well in the past at state. But this year, it didn’t come to fruition.”
Still, the Demons are looking to shine at state this weekend at Beaver Creek, which will be held Thursday and Friday. With four skiers making a return back to state and eight more experiencing it for the first time, LeSage believes the Demons can surprise some teams.
“We’re looking forward to this weekend,” she said. “We’ve worked hard this year, and with the 12 we’ve got going, I think we might be able to surprise some teams. The boys are a bit stronger than the girls this season, but I don’t see why we can’t get good performances out of both teams.”