Only in the mountain region do you find meets with climbs like this one at Aspen's Chris Severy Invitational. Photo by Matt Scoggins.
In Colorado, the mountain region covers a lot of territory. And exactly what qualifies and what doesn't qualify is potentially a bone of contention. Realtors in every Colorado community with a view of mountain want their town to be classified as a mountain town. But, alas, it isn't as simple as that. Further adding to the consternation is the fact that Battle Mountain qualifies as a "mountain" school, but Green Mountain does not. Sometimes, it's hard to know when you can trust a name and when you can't.
Since we're eventually getting around to every cross country program in the state, I'm going to have to ask you to trust me on the programs I've labeled as mountain programs (and on those I haven't).
Matters of trust aside, Colorado's mountain-based cross country programs have seen a lot of success over the years. Colorado's all-time most successful cross country program also happens to be the high school at the highest elevation in the entire United States of America--that being Lake County High School. But other mountain schools have claimed their share of state titles along the way, too.
There are more 4A schools in this collection than you might have guessed. Those schools would include Summit, Battle Mountain, Evergreen, Conifer, Woodland Park, Steamboat Springs, and Eagle Valley. Evergreen, Battle Mountain, and Steamboat Springs have state titles on their resume; Summit, Woodland Park, and Eagle Valley do not. It should be noted, however, that Summit has an individual state titleist in the person of Whitney Anderson who was once every bit the buzz of the state that Elise Cranny was this spring, only about nine years ago. Anderson went on to star for Duke until a persistent hamstring issue put an untimely end to her career. Conifer also claims an individual state titleist in their cross country history.
Battle Mountain is once again coached by Rob Parish, one of the most unmistakeable voices in all of Colorado cross country, and also one of the most exciteable cross country coaches you will ever meet. In the summer, he chases his teams up and down the sides of the upper Eagle Valley because anything flat around there is either marshy or paved over and involves dodging lots of expensive cars. Presumably, Melinda Brandt deals with similar issues at the lower end of the Eagle Valley. Until just three or four years ago, Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley were a single, combined cross country program, but there's clearly enough interest at either school to support a thriving program for many years to come.
It's an impressive list of 3A mountain schools, to include Salida, Buena Vista, Estes Park, Middle Park, Clear Creek, Platte Canyon, Aspen, Basalt, and Lake County. Amazingly, every one of these schools, save Basalt, boasts at least one state cross country championship and several more near misses. At one time, both Lake County and Clear Creek were widely recognized as the small school scourges of the state, capable of more than holding their own against programs from much larger schools. For the record, Lake County has 28 state titles to their credit and Clear Creek six. Lake County dominated the 70s and 80s. Clear Creek dominated the 90s.
Middle Park has put state champions such as Tabor School, Sam Berggren, and Gabe Olchin into the familiar purple singlet. Estes Park has clothed some cross country royalty in purple as well in the persons of Emily Plummer, Elizabeth Manning, Chris Lee, and Dawn Shockley. An interesting bit of trivia on Dawn Shockley is that her cross country career didn't last much beyond her sophomore year of high school, but she did go on to be a prominent member of the Univeristy of Denver women's golf team.
Aspen is home to the legendary Severy family--there are a few state titles and some ferocious hill-climbing ability locked up in that lineage.
Buena Vista and Salida? Well, it's been a while since BV won a team state title, but Rachel Gioscia thoroughly dominated 3A girls for a couple of years about 10 years ago, and Joseph DeMoor ran away from everybody at a more recent state meet. Salida was home to Aaron Blondeau, Josh Noriega, and the 2009 boys state title team. Their recent success on the junior high circuit suggests that there's more to be heard from Salida in the near future.
As a side note on Buena Vista, the pronunciation of the name of this pleasant little mountain community is a classic example of a modern-day shibboleth. How you pronounce the city name is a good clue to whether or not you are a true Colorado native. Enhancing the amusement level here is the fact that most of the people who do try to pronounce it "correctly" end up crashing an English noun into the rear end of their Spanish adjective.
Platte Canyon owns the distinction of breaking up what was then a state record of seven consecutive state titles in 1986. The Huskies have come close a time or two since then but never again won a state title. At the individual level, however, Platte Canyon's Kristen McGlynn is one of the best 3A has ever seen. She went on to a very nice career at Adams State that included a DII national title or two.
Not to be outdone, the 2A mountain schools boast a little cross country history of their own. These schools would include Telluride, Lake City, Crested Butte, Nederland, Creede, Rye, and Custer County.
Crested Butte has been close on numerous occasions but waited until 2011 to get out of the state meet with the big trophy. Nederland's girls recently won four consecutive 2A girls state titles. Telluride's boys own a title from 2010.
Lake City and Creede are probably the state's two smallest schools to support cross country. Less anyone think that means inferior programs, I'll take this opportunity to remind you that Creede alum Kelly Lamb finished fourth in the NCAA DII Steeple this spring and finished 13th in the NCAA DII cross country meet in the fall. Lake City is one of the newest cross country programs in the state but has already seen Coach Dan Scroggins nominated as a Brooks Most Inspiring Coach. Lake City might be a larger town, and thus support a larger cross country program, had not Alferd Packer single-handedly undone all the best work of the local chamber of commerce during the earliest years of settlement.
Oh, the meets...
Under the category of suffer-fest, there are the Battle Mountain and Chris Severy (Aspen) Invitationals. Chris Keleher and Rob Parish probably get together each winter and trade notes on how to make their respective meets more painful. Unless you break an ankle on the course, the Battle Mountain Invitational is probably the least expensive experience you'll ever have at the Beaver Creek Ski Area.
Lake County probably also qualifies as a suffer-fest, rolling up and down around the Colorado Mountain College campus as it does, but the LC meet is but a shadow of its former self when teams from far and wide converged on the Leadville golf course. A regional meet a few years ago on the Colorado Mountain College course was the occasion of no small amount of controversy.
Platte Canyon prides themselves on a suffer-fest at the school district's Rosalie Property. That venue also became the center of some regional meet controversy in recent years. It should be noted that the PC meet is typically lighly attended. There are also rumors of a lightly-attended suffer-fest at Clear Creek, but I know very little about that meet except that I've received results from there a time or two that would suggest they either have a tough course or a fast timepiece.
Clear Creek's former home meet course is the stuff of legend. For those of you who've driven by scenic Georgetown on your way up to the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70, try to envision a cross country meet in that community. Now imagine taking a spin through Lake Georgetown as part of the course. The meet was well attended. I'm unsure if anyone tried using steeplechase spikes on that course during its heyday.
Middle Park has given up its suffer fest at the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch in Fraser and now runs around the trendy town of Granby. At least I think that meet is still going...
Eagle Valley and Custer County take their meets to local golf courses. Custer County formerly had a suffer-fest on the edge of the Sangre de Cristos, but suffer-fests apparently don't have the same drawing power in Custer County as they do in Colorado's ski-and-condo corridor. Nevertheless, running on grass at elevation can be taxing enough. From all I've seen and heard, both Eagle Valley and Custer County work very hard to put on an appealing meet at an attractive venue.
Buena Vista and Salida host meets of relatively moderate intensity. Salida, though, has had difficulty securing a permanent course. Frantz Lakes appears to have become the venue of choice, but the exact route to be used there is still a matter of some annual variation. A delightful course at the base of Monarch Pass tanked when the golf course community that hosted the meet went belly-up.
I believe Steamboat Springs still hosts a meet, but it must be a very low-key affair. I rarely see results from Steamboat (but please consider this an invitation to send them!).
Rye has hosted a meet in years past, but they took their show down the slopes of Greenhorn Mountain to run at a golf course in Colorado City. Estes Park formerly hosted a meet that gave a few Patriot League teams a good shot at oxygen deprivation, but I believe that meet has met its demise as well.
Creede once hosted the mother of all suffer-fests, but that meet has since taken the boat to the grey havens. Nothing lasts forever.
Disclaimer: As much as I personally enjoy running on and understand the appeal of suffer-fest kind of courses, I'm not particularly a fan of racing those courses during cross country season. Those who take a peak at the TCA cross country schedule might have wondered about that, and I wanted to remove the potential source of confusion on that issue.