Nordic Ski Colorado - The official cross-country ski guide
Article: Nancy Young Helped Shape Snow Mountain Ranch's Program
By Cara McDonald / Photos courtesy of Nancy Young

Bill Koch League 1986
Bill Koch League 1986: Jim Corville and Nancy Young laugh with a group of young Nordic skiers in the Bill Koch League.

When early snow dumps on the Fraser Valley, one of the first places it clings to is Blue Ridge Trail. The Nordic skiing diehards twitch in anticipation; they know the north-facing slope will make for the first tracks of the season. The trail climbs up to 12,000 feet on Blue Ridge Mountain, winding for 11 kilometers to the top. From there, early skiers are rewarded with stunning Continental Divide views, as well as a birds-eye perspective of the thousands of acres that are home to the YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center.

The Nordic trails weren’t always so sprawling, however.

In late autumn of 1983, Nancy Young rolled up the long drive to Snow Mountain Ranch to report for work. The Wisconsin native had been recruited by the Winter Park competition center to do an academy program for high school students who would come and live at the YMCA during the winter and ski.

But when Nancy arrived, she was in for a surprise. The program had failed to recruit any students, and been called off; but no one had told Nancy. Stashing her duffle bags in the 8x12-foot trailer that she would come to call home, she decided to stay on to teach Nordic ski lessons and start a ski program.

As she headed out to explore the trails with storybook names like “Sleepy Hollow” and “Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House,” Nancy raised her eyebrows. “There were hardly any useable trails. And they were narrow, too narrow in spots. I had exactly myself and the use of a broken-down snowmobile to get things going,” she says.

But the property was stunning. Snow Mountain Ranch had been founded 75 years before as a haven with Christian principles for kids and families to come together in an inspiring setting that nurtures a “healthy spirit, mind, and body.” The property sprawled over 5,000 acres of rolling pine and aspen forest and meadows, dotted with ponds, wetlands, and willows, and home to a long stretch of Pole Creek. “With this landscape,” Nancy thought, “what potential!”

She didn’t have long to make that potential a reality: The Y mentioned that, in partnership with Winter Park Resort, they’d agreed to host a race that season – The Great American Ski Chase, scheduled to be held on the grounds in exactly five weeks.

No trails, Nancy thought, and no grooming program (although YMCA staff offered to stamp down the course with snowshoes). Now in a real panic, especially since Nancy’s husband Jim was out of reach, and in Canada coaching, she recruited Greg Poirier and Kim Long, and the three of them cut trees and rolled logs for five weeks straight to widen the trails and create the first racecourse at Snow Mountain.

That race has led to many others. The Snow Mountain Ranch Stampede has been held each spring for 27 years, drawing an especially competitive field of master skiers to duke it out over a challenging course filled with climbs and downhills. In summer, the trails have been home to local mountain bike races an the Kona 24 Hour mountain bike race.

Nancy Young and dog at Snow Mtn Ranch YMCA
Nancy Young's dog, Dru, could always find the best and easiest lines through the trees, which helped establish the trail designs.

Nancy continued to develop trails on the property, adding over the years until nearly 100 kilometers wound throughout the YMCA’s campus and backcountry acreage. In summers, she’d hike the property with her husky, Dru. “Dru could always find the best and easiest lines through the trees,” she remembers. “I would follow and that became our trail design.” She named them after skiers with local ties that had gone on to great achievements in the Nordic world. Lynch was named for Kerry Lynch, Nordic combined champion; Cranmer for Bruce Cranmer, former US Ski Team competitor and Nordic Coordinator for the University of Colorado; Audun after Audun Endestad, a legendary Nordic racer who became a friend of the Youngs and spent much time at Snow Mountain. And on it goes, each trail conjuring up a face, a legend.

Recruiting top-flight skiers to experience the property became an important strategy for Nancy. “I used to invite collegiate teams or any national team athlete who competed to come ski for free,” she says. “I wanted the new skiers, the families with little kids, to see what it was they were actually striving to become – to experience beautiful skiing so that they’d be inspired to keep after it.”

Adding to the growing Nordic center’s exposure and cache in the competitive arena wasn’t easy. As a non-profit, the YMCA lacked the funds and motivation to invest money in the growing program, and couldn’t always see how the program’s growth dovetailed with providing recreational outlets for families. “I had to explain to the board that by promoting this activity as a sport, they were getting local kids involved,” Nancy says.

The center got a boost in 1986 when Nancy’s husband, Jim, became the US biathlon head coach and brought the biathlon team to the property to train. To host them, a biathlon course was created, and remains one of the few in the region. Snow Mountain’s Nordic Center is now home to the Colorado Biathlon Club, and hosts all their races and events throughout the year.

After 15 years, Nancy left Snow Mountain with a legacy; the Nordic program continues, and has been the training ground and inspiration for local talent like Todd Wilson, a Nordic Combined skier who grew up on the trails and was on the US Nordic Team for 9 years, competing in two Winter Olympic games.

The Nordic Center at Snow Mountain Ranch is now one of the largest in the state and region, offering more than 100 km of trails and claiming 20,000 skier visits per year – both Snow Mountain Ranch guests and Front Range day-trippers. The center sells gear and offers waxing and ski equipment rentals and lessons. Upstairs, the Skinny Ski Cafe ladles out hefty bowls of homemade soup to the die-hards who’ll stop just to warm up, and then head out for a few hours more.

Nancy Young and dog at Snow Mtn Ranch YMCA
Nancy Young skis with Peter, a rescue Husky and namesake of Peter’s Trail, a great dog loopin the trail system at Snow Mountain Ranch, YMCA of the Rockies.

It’s a legacy likely to only expand. Just this year, a land protectionagreement was reached that put 2,786 acres of the YMCA’s backcountry property into a conservation easement. The move prevents the developing of the land while still allowing for recreational use, meaning time-honored trails will wind undisturbed through the property, inspiring the next generation of young skiers.

TOP TRAILS - Nancy Young’s Picks

> Peter’s Trail: “I made Peter’s Trail with my rescued husky, Peter, so people with dogs would have a place to ski. It’s a great loop to tire your dogs out and then let them sleep in the car so you can go ski.”

> Gaskill: “Named after my good friend Steve, I’ve always loved the Gaskill Trail because it was close to the Nordic center and it was a great out-and-back; and the view from the highest point is so pretty.”

> Lynch: “We used to live over near Lynch, and I’d ski it at night. Night skiing is good for technique; you can’t see the trail and freak out over climbs and downhills, you have to learn to feel your skis and sense your balance.”

>> This article was originally published in Grand County Living Magazine, Winter 2010-2011.

<< Go back to articles in the Historical Nordic Figures section >>


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