Campus Nordic skiers displaced

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Field plowed early for soccer and football

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  • A practice field across from Escalante Drive on Western Colorado University’s campus has been cleared of snow. The grooming earlier in the year will allow sports teams to use the fields earlier. Sam Liebl
    A practice field across from Escalante Drive on Western Colorado University’s campus has been cleared of snow. The grooming earlier in the year will allow sports teams to use the fields earlier. Sam Liebl

The sight of grass came as a jolt to Nordic users on Monday as plowing by Western Colorado University cut across a groomed nordic trail and made sledding at an adjacent hill a questionable proposition.

The university typically waits until March or April to clear snow off the practice fields north of Escalante Drive. Without team sports operating on the snow-covered expanse, Gunnison Nordic grooms trails there for skiers, and children and university students alike slide down the hill on the western side of Mountaineer Bowl.

But facility crews got a jump on the process in order to “allow the field to thoroughly dry for better use in February and March,” said University Communications Officer Chris Rourke.

“Sledding can still occur on the hill — it will just end in grass,” she said by email.

The university informed Gunnison Nordic of the decision to clear the fields early two months ago, Rourke said.

But Joellen Fonken of Gunnison Nordic said the second week of January was much earlier than expected.

“We knew it would be plowed but not to that extent,” Fonken said.

According to Fonken, Gunnison Nordic agreed with campus operations on a line where the early plowing would stop so that a portion of the groomed trail that ascends a small hill could still be used. The hill was one of the few spots in Gunnison where skiers could practice their uphill technique.

“I’m bummed that they did not honor our line we negotiated in October,” she said. “At Gunnison Nordic we can adapt, and we can change, but there are not a lot of hills.”

The January plowing stems from a need for more practice field space because of pandemic-postponed sports seasons.

“Due to both football fall and women’s soccer seasons being postponed to the spring due to COVID-19 precautions, there was a need for more practice field space,” Rourke said.

The university is also looking into clearing the Katy 0. Rady turf soccer field but currently does not have the means to do that safely.

If they can handle the midwinter temperatures and the icy ground, football players could begin practicing on the newly plowed field this month. The National Collegiate Athletic Association allows the Mountaineers to start their practice season Jan. 26.

(Sam Liebl can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or editor@gunnisontimes.com)