Luke Graham: Nordic delight thanks to shovels |

Luke Graham: Nordic delight thanks to shovels

Luke Graham

Luke Graham

— If you like bluebird days in winter, Friday and Saturday at Howelsen Hill were phenomenal.

If you were among the 300-plus Nordic athletes who took part in Friday and Saturday's University of Colorado Spencer Nelson Memorial Nordic race and Rocky Mountain Nordic Junior National Qualifier, you owe thanks.

As is the case pretty much everywhere but Alaska, there isn't very much snow so far this season. But thanks in large part to a group of volunteers and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club cross-country coach Brian Tate, the track at Howelsen might have been the best in the country this weekend.

Don't believe it?

"It was great. It's better than anywhere else," said University of Montana State skier David Norris, who won the men's college division of Saturday's classic ski race. "I just came from nationals (in Maine), where it was all manmade. This is just as good. I had fun."

Or this.

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"I'm impressed they made this happen," said University of Alaska-Anchorage skier Jaime Bronga, who won the women's college classic race. "Alaska has a ton of snow but nowhere else does. I'm glad they were able to find a 2.5-kilometer loop and not just a 1-kilometer loop."

Yes, the track on Saturday — at least on its surface — made the lack of snow a distant memory. But behind every great course with a lack of snow is a great story of how it came together.

For this weekend's races it came down to several "shovel parties." And for most of us, those two words should never go together.

Heading into the week of the competition, the south side of the trails at Howelsen were bare. It took crews three days of shoveling snow on the trails for multiple hours to get it up to the level they wanted.

It wasn't just the shoveling of the snow that made it tough. The actual snow that the crews shoveled wasn't exactly ideal for making a top-notch Nordic trail.

"It was pretty sugary and old snow," said Frankie Hannah, who helped shovel. "It doesn't pack as well, but they've done a great job packing it in and grooming it."

Lars Hannah skied where Frankie shoveled on Friday and gave it his seal of approval. He wasn't the only one, as each skier who competed Friday and Saturday could attest.

The three days of shoveling left one of the best tracks in the country.

So has there been any benefit to the no snow?

"More tan faces," Hannah said. "That's about it."

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email

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