Steamboat Springs Step to the edge of the Old Town Hot Springs lap pool, and it’s not immediately clear if anyone is turning in length after length.
The snow falls continuously, evaporating as it paints the pool deck. Above the water, low-lying steam conjures up imagery of a bustling, far-off industrial city.
Then it happens.
Swimmers burst through the fog, appearing suddenly into view. Who would swim in this weather?
“Well, when the outside temperature is below zero, we can’t put them in the water,” Old Town Hot Springs Aquatics Director Jill Ruppel said.
But if it's above zero, the quirky and unique members of the Old Town Hot Springs Tridents prove time and again they are a rugged bunch. After all, who else would swim five days each week in an outdoor pool in Steamboat, in winter?
The team of year-round swimmers, now in its second year, has increased to 10 members. They swim from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Saturday. The team also does dryland training Monday and Wednesday mornings.
On average, they swim between 4,000 and 5,000 yards each session.
“It actually allows kids more time in the water,” said Ruppel, who coaches the Tridents with Sam Huff. “They’re racing and swimming faster. We’re seeing them achieve their goals.”
The idea for a year-round swim team came from years of competing. In summer, Old Town Hot Springs often fields a team of close to 100 youth swimmers. But as the meets got more competitive, it became apparent that seasonal swimming wasn’t enough.
“If I wanted to get better, I knew I had to do year-round,” said Steamboat Springs High School freshman Samantha Terranova. “It’s fun. Most of the meets on the Western Slope are seasonal, but when we went to Denver, you could tell we were seasonal swimmers.”
At the team's last meet in early December, multiple goals were met. Terranova achieved sectional times. Brenden Carta, Madison Ruppel, Terranova and Ty Kortas all hit senior state times, while Frank Ruppel and Parker Kortas hit age group state times. Frank Ruppel also broke out, meeting several zone cut times.
In addition to those swimmers, Marley Loomis, Margaret Lichtenfels, Piper Rillos, Parker Kortas and Lily Starkey also compete.
Often, competing means braving elements akin to skiing in a Speedo.
“It’s more of a motivation,” Carta said. “It shows how hard we have to train to compete.”
And it’s not all bad. The program already has paid off. Former members Amy Brodie and Luci Franklin both now are swimming in college, something several Tridents members said is an ultimate goal of theirs.
Swimming in the cold and snow is a badge of honor for the group. Although getting out of the pool and into the icy air at the end of a workout is a lowlight, there are less tangible benefits.
“On a cold, clear night, it’s amazing,” Madison Ruppel said. “It’s peaceful, and you can see the stars when you do the backstroke.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com