As a ski guide at The Home Ranch, there are 3 essentials.
1- The obvious is the ability to get around on any type of ski.
2- Then there is the obsession with the shoveling of immense amounts of snow.
3- But the most important trait is the possession of one good story.
It is hard to compete with Lizzie and her tales of 150 days on the Pacific Crest Trail. Then there is ‘Captain’ Mike and his encyclopedia of knowledge on birds and Alaska. Mark of course can tell you everything there is to know about the North Routt backcountry, the Zirkels and every trail no matter the season. So, as the rookie guide this year, I was pretty intimidated and needed a good story. And that is how this race, The Home Ranch Round-Up came to be. It started as a story and the one I would tell over and over to any guest that would listen to me….which was hard as Mark can tell stories all day long.
I will spare you the whole story, but suffice it to say, the predecessor to this weekend’s race, The Coureur Des Bois changed my life back in 2007. It started with an invitation by a woman I met skate skiing one morning. She asked me and a few friends to join her for a trip to North Routt County to ski a race that was a one of a kind. We accepted. Each for our own reason. Who wouldn’t want to ski to Wyoming and back from Steamboat Lake? Actually, I really did not find that concept too appealing. I just wanted to ski with her….for 90 kilometers. I hope, all of you reading this blog know how magical the mountains and snow of North Routt are. Life changing. For sure. We talk about this kind of stuff every time we guide at the ranch. It’s a one of a kind place.
That race in 2007 was my first time to Clark. I had lived in Colorado for 10 years. How did I not know about this place and the surrounding wilderness peaks? It no longer matters to me that it took me so long to get here. That one race changed everything for me. Two years later I married that woman that asked me to ski with her. I, of course, fell deeply in love with her even as she ski’d away from me on her way to the finish. 8 years later, we would move to Clark with our two young boys. All of this from one little race.
So, it was after one month into my first season at the Ranch as a ski guide that the idea floated around about coming up with a signature event that could one day possibly be comparable to the Coureur Des Bois. Also known as Glide the Divide, the race ultimately ran from 2004-2014 just north of Clark. After an absence of only one season, it was already missed by the community and the 300 skiers that came from all over the country. A few of us here at the ranch wondered about the possibility and potential for hosting such a world class event on our trails. The race would not only need to be challenging but it would need to have unique terrain, abundant snow, excellent grooming and an exceptional staff. A small team of Home Ranchers quickly assembled and started the planning process in mid-January. We had 2 months to pull it off.
Being that Clyde was the early champion of the idea and we had not yet come up with a name for the race, it was decided in the kitchen of all places, that somewhere in the marketing of this event we would sneak in the nickname of the race. ‘Glide the Clyde.’ From there things began to flow smoothly with our planning process. Later that week, Selina asked me to track total distance and elevation gained on some of the trails. She then asked me to skate every kilometer on the ranch and begin mapping a course for the race. Smiling ear to ear I thought to myself, I love this job!
While skiing north to south and back again I thought back to my second day on the job, when there was hardly any snow yet on the ranch. I met Mike, ‘Captain,’ and soon found myself in a trailer on the back of the snowmobile. I was sitting amongst all the trail signs and stakes holding on for dear life as ‘Captain’ gave me my first tour of the upper and south meadows. I was blown away. Having skied all over the west, and at most of the top Nordic centers, I was amazed to find this hidden gem of skiing at the ranch. At the time, I could not imagine skiing or learning this diverse and intricate trail system. But I was certain it was something very special.
So in January, after skiing the trails over and over and coming up with some initial race layouts, we were confident that we could design a course that would be challenging, fun and memorable. Clyde, Selina and I made a few calls to some folks in the Nordic world that would eventually become invaluable partners. The consensus amongst everyone we called was that the legacy of the North Routt Coureur Des Bois should be carried on and that The Home Ranch was the perfect place to place the baton.
Everyone at the Ranch was excited. As the winter rolled by, record snowfall would accumulate and we knew the coverage would still be great come March. The date was set for March 12. The same exact weekend reserved in years past for the Coureur Des Bois. Then February happened. Or didn’t happen. The Ranch received less than 12 inches of snow in all of February. Steamboat recorded 250 inches of snow in December and January. March followed with little snow and consistent temps in the 30s and 40s. Our enthusiasm of planning in January when it was 40 degrees colder started to soften….like all our snow and many of us began to wonder.
That is when Clyde assured us all we could do this, that race registration would not be effected by weather and like Kevin Costners Field of Dreams, “build it, they will come.” So we kept our heads down and went for our goals which remained constant: Design and groom a world class course that will be regarded as the most challenging course in the west. Create an entertaining event for others on a modified course with shorter distances. Involve our guests. Open the ranch to skiers the following day for a ski clinic. And provide a weekend with exceptional service.
Chad and I must have spent about 15 hours in the cab of the our beautiful PistenBully the week of the race. I think I spent just as many hours skiing the course that week…and days later I am yet to put my skis back on. While in the cab of the groomer, Chad and I kept getting frustrated that snow was not setting up as perfectly as we would have liked…even up to the very last moment. We got into the groomer at 3:30 am the morning of the race. We finished just as the sun came over Home Mountain. The Zirkels lit up first, unveiling a thin layer of clouds. A coyote family of 5 ran across Quickdraw as the sun draped Sand Mountain and the tip of Hahn’s Peak. We both looked back at the snow as it left the tiller and set up. Spring snow no matter the time of day just never behaves like those early winter powder days. Chad’s been here a lot longer than me. He said to me as we worked our way down Irrigation Sensation back to the ranch…” I don’t know Matson…I guess we did our best. I hope it’s good enough for them.”
I reflected back to my ski so long ago where I met my wife and back to the trailer ride behind the Captain’s snowmobile and my first time on the ranch’s trails and I said. “You know Chad, I hear what you are saying. You grew up in this amazing valley and have been at the ranch for a long time. But for me and others, this is the first time. The first time you ski a place like this on a course like this with these mountains surrounding everything. You will remember it forever and it will be more than good enough. It will be perfect.” We rounded Lodwick Loop, both exhausted. “I sure hope so,” replied Chad.
Weather patterns improved…as they often do. Race day rolled around. Douglas made his famous pre-race muffins and Anna swiped Clyde’s famous chili recipe for post-race recovery. Laura from housekeeping, Caitlyn from the dining staff and Kyle, Clyde’s son, patrolled the danger zones on the course. Front Desk Emma registered everybody and pinned race bibs. Mark monitored all the course yard sales from Black Diamond descent Elk Run. Captain and Lizzie planted countless course signs. Christopher, who picks guests up at the airport, clocked everyone’s times and Stu from the dining room made sure no racer took any short cut. Andrea and Mackenzie kept all the racers well-nourished in the feed zone. Selina captured it all on camera and video. We all laughed and cheered as a team.
And it was perfect. All of us amateurs put on a race that was regarded as world class amongst a field of diverse skiers from the elite to novice. The race staff did not need t-shirts to be acknowledged, we all were burned bright red from a glorious day in the sun.
And for me, my story as a ski guide…I get to add another chapter. I am proud to be a small part of the Nordic legacy in this little valley that is so special. I look forward to being a part of this team that year in year out delivers memorable and life changing experiences. And I can’t wait to ski the ‘Glide the Clyde’ with my wife and boys.