Summit County’s gang of four female ski mountaineers will represent more than themselves when they don their red, white and blue Dynafit skimo racing uniforms next week in the Swiss Alps.
The group realizes it’s special that four women from Summit County make up nearly half of the senior team, which will compete for the United States in the International Ski Mountaineering Federation World Championships. But, if you ask them, their accomplishment is not limited to them as individuals.
For veteran team member Jaime Brede, it’s Summit County’s groundbreaking female skimo athletes who came before her. For relative newbie Sierra Anderson, it’s the growing community of female skiers that make Summit County a hotbed for the burgeoning sport. And, for skimo moms Nikki LaRochelle and Kate Zander, it’s about the family and friends who have helped them balance skimo success with what they consider their primary mission: motherhood.
“I like that it’s a bit of a game, a bit of a game of chess,” said Zander, a mother of two. “For me, it’s like it’s a balance. It’s a success just by going out.
Zander has left the door of her Farmers Korner home enough in the past year to build up her strength and skimo skills after giving birth to her second child in late 2017. Thanks to her performance in the championships qualifying event December World Championships at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Zander fulfilled a ten-year dream of competing in the Skimo World Championships.
Anderson, a friend of Zander’s since their time at Summit High School over a decade ago, qualified with her. At the time, Zander said that she and Anderson were, in a way, two strangers at Summit High. Teenage transplants, they both remained in awe of Summit County’s wild playground long after their high school contemporaries were jaded by it.
Passionate about the outdoors, after meeting through their youth pastor, they both went out for the high school Nordic ski team. Anderson only lasted two weeks before finding her calling in alpine skiing. Zander lasted, well, forever really. She has since transitioned into ski mountaineering following her college career as a Nordic skier at Western Colorado University in Gunnison.
Anderson would not switch to ski mountaineering until much later, less than two years ago. With her background as an accomplished distance runner at Southern Methodist University, Anderson was previously known as one of Summit’s top female athletes. But it wasn’t until one of the county’s ski mountaineering forbears, Evan Hagen, suggested the sport to him during a trail run that Anderson decided to give it his all.
Since then, Anderson has translated his elite athletic experience into skimo success.
“She’s got this hunger, she’s got the drive,” Zander said of her friend. “She’s giving it her all and I think that’s great.”
Zander and Anderson’s journey returned to skiing together after significant events along the way. At Zander’s wedding, Anderson did her friend’s makeup. When Zander had kids, Anderson took her baby photos. Before Anderson participated in skimo, she babysat Zander’s child while Zander participated.
And now they will compete together at the world championships.
“I think it definitely strengthened our bond,” Anderson said. “You know, it’s rare to find someone else here that you grew up with. I kind of saw her through many stages of her life. It’s really inspiring. I just know how hard she works as a mother and as an athlete and to juggle it all. And I always try to encourage her to say that “you are first and foremost a champion mother and wife”. This is the first priority.
LaRochelle would also easily qualify as a champion mother, wife and skimo competitor. Much like Zander, LaRochelle said the challenge of skimo training while being a mom comes down to time management. On many days there will be a one hour window in the whole day for training. She not only needs to be more disciplined, but she needs to be more flexible with her expectations of herself. For her, a good week equals 18 hours of training.
“If I could do more, I would,” LaRochelle said. “That’s basically what I’m able to justify to myself. This is the upper limit that I can reach as a mother and someone who works too.
LaRochelle also credits her own success not only to the women’s ski mountaineering community in Summit County, but to that of Colorado as a whole. LaRochelle says there are at least half a dozen women in Summit County who are just as fast or competitive as the group of four that will go to the world championships. But, for different reasons – perhaps motherhood, time commitment and burnout – these women are not the four chosen to go to Switzerland.
“There are probably about 30 top women in the sport,” LaRochelle said of Colorado’s women’s ski mountaineering community. “And there are ebbs and flows of who is really committed in any given season. There is a lot of talent.”
Through these ebbs and flows, Brede has been one of the constants of the Summit County skimo community. These days, as a Summit Endurance Academy coach, Brede is teaching the next generation and next level of American ski mountaineers, including local girls Grace Staberg and Elsa Bates, who will also be competing in Switzerland. Staberg and Bates may be the future, but Brede also has ties to the figures who came before her, whom she considers the “founding women” of the county’s women’s skimo community.
Elite mountain biker Brede was introduced to the sport by one of these female founders, Monique Merrill, while Brede worked at Merrill’s Amazing Grace restaurant in Breckenridge. After Merrill returned from the world championships seven years ago, Brede was intrigued by the stories she told.
“And I thought, wow, this is what I want to do someday,” Brede said.
Switching to skimo from triathlon and mountain biking, Brede soon joined Zander and LaRochelle as three of the most accomplished female ski mountaineers in the county. Then, Anderson not only provided an elite fourth contender, but she also brought the kind of rah-rah team spirit that the tenacious group of individuals lacked.
Which brings us to this weekend. Come Sunday, they will be a team halfway around the world in Switzerland. And, deep in the Swiss Alps, the quartet finds it an honor to represent the state, country and Summit County – especially all of you moms.
“To be in this position and know there’s this kind of army of moms behind us,” Zander said, “there might be four of us going to Europe, but there’s at least 20 ski moms athletes capable out there who could do it if they wanted to. We have such depth that it’s – I feel like the four of us kind of represent all of Summit County and skimo.