According to a story in the Summit Daily News, late this summer, the longtime operators of the Frisco Nordic Center and Breckenridge Nordic Center, Gene and Therese Dayton announced they were stepping back from day-to-day operations at the Frisco location to focus on Breckenridge. Therese Dayton and her husband Gene have overseen just about everything that happens at both centers for nearly 50 years.
Therese Dayton wants Summit County to know that she and her husband aren’t going away anytime soon. “For us, in our hearts, when you’re getting stuck with the behind-the-scenes and administrative work, people don’t see us and know what we do,” Therese said on Nov. 3, the first day of snowmaking at the Breckenridge center after a woefully warm October. “I’d love to be more a part of the nine-to-four Nordic center, but I haven’t been able to because I’m on the computer late into the night.”
Now, for the first time in decades, the Daytons get to kick back and relax — but only a little. After passing daily operations of the Frisco Center to Jim Galanes, a fellow Summit local and former member of the U.S. Ski Team, the Daytons decided to focus wholeheartedly on the Breckenridge Center and its signature community events: Nordic ski lessons, cross-country ski tours, the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center with the Breckebeiner 60K and the Summit Nordic Ski Club with the annual Summit County Nordic Ski Swap.
The Ski Swap
In the past, the ski swap was spread between the Frisco lodge and brand-new Breckenridge lodge. It was confusing for newcomers, Therese said. This year’s event runs daily from Nov. 11 to Nov. 22 at only the Breckenridge Nordic Center, hopefully clearing up confusion and raising even more money for its benefactors: the local Nordic ski club and other youth programs.
The swap started because cross country skiing was just a small segment of the county-wide system of skiing. They realized then that the market segments were not being covered such as classic, skate, backcountry touring, and now snowshoe, which is a big segment of the market.
The center is known for the children’s program, where someone can get a boot and come back to get a larger size when the child outgrows the gear in February. If a skier wants to go from classic to backcountry skiing, they can bring back the gear, get store credit and use that credit to upgrade their gear. There is not charge to get into the swap or to sell equipment. Therese commented, “We feel we have enough gear through rentals and our demo program and everything else. We try to have snow ready for the swap too, so people can get out on the gear.”
Leaving Frisco Nordic Center
Regarding the decision to leave Frisco Nordic Center, Therese commented, “It’s a great transition. We want to make sure things go well with the client base and the trail systems that Gene has hand built, in many ways, with shovels and hand tools and all of that. We’ve maintained the Gold Rush (Nordic race in its 46th season) while we were there, and the town now has the right resources — departments that never existed before, like the recreation department and the tubing hill with snowmaking equipment — so this was a great time for us and for them."
Therese said, “I’m just getting the first glimpses, but right now we’re only opening one ski area, where in the past we were doing two and even three areas. Right now we just have more time to focus on events.”
They'll be doing more learn-to-ski programs at Breckenridge this year and more guided trips with groups. The lessons and the snowshoe trips are done with one to three people, and those will grow with the walking historic tours where they talk about the flora, the fauna, the foxes, the moose, and so on. The center is on the edge of the Cucumber Gulch Preserve, the town-owned wetland teeming with wildlife.
Gene added “The Cucumber area is incredible. It’s a true peat bog over 10,000 (vertical) feet, and it doesn’t happen like that anywhere else. It’s probably the most studied wetland in the country. It has to be monitored by biologists, but once there’s two feet of snow we can access the area.
We call it Beaver Meadows and we have a special use permit for Peaks 6 and 7, and with more than 1,400 acres, we’re still working on a master plan for trails in the area.”
The Daytons say they’ll focus on new trails for uphill-downhill events. The concept is to give people a way to break into ski racing without just entering a race to see how they do. There are also huts on the trail that need daily maintenance including the Hallelujah Hut, which probably has the oldest mining history of any building in Breckenridge. It’s called the “retort house” — the place where miners would come to melt down their ore — and the whole thing was redone almost 16 years ago.
Therese said, “It’s about being more hands on with everything we’re doing. You can end up in the office on a computer, and that’s necessary, but it’s not our first love. We’re trying to remember how Gene and I met. We had a Norwegian ski instructor who put on “Ski For Light,” an international program with national and regional programs to help people with visibility and mobility issues to get on skis. That’s how we met: I was coming to work with the BOEC and met him through that program. It’s about working with others, helping bring more people into Nordic skiing.”
When the Daytons got the permit for the Breckenridge Nordic Center site they wanted a ski area that could move horizontally across the valley. They formerly had a ski area at Whatley Ranch (now Red Tail Ranch), where they developed trails around Gold Hill, which is an elk breeding area and it became the (Breckenridge) golf course. They were going to make it like European skiing, with grooming from Breckenridge to the golf course, then the golf course to Gold Hill, then from there to the Frisco Center. They did a few races in the past that linked them all and the dream was to have restaurants and businesses connecting the Tenmile Range.
They groom the trails year-round. In the summer they groom to grow grass, because if you can mow the grass in the fall you have a better surface for the snow to compact. “We really need moisture, precipitation, and if we have these very warm days like we’ve been getting, the base won’t be the best. It’ll melt from the top down. We’re just waiting on the weather.”
The Breckenridge Center is in the woods and Therese said, “It can be windy in town or on the mountain, but our trails are heavily wooded with a legend forest. It’s not quite a true old-growth forest — it’s 50 years younger than the age they use for that designation — but these are very thick woods, these enchanted forest woods, and kids really love that.”
Gene always had a heart for youth and getting youth into the wilderness. He found there’s a lot of grant money for people with developmental disabilities, so for us, we feel it’s the same with sports or athletics — we can bring them together. If you can give children a lifetime sport before they turn 18 years old, it can really help them. That’s why our passion is for people and children.
Each year, there’s a segment of the market that’s brand-new. The beauty of cross-country is that you can do this out your back door. We’d love to have people come in for lessons and training or anything else, to find the glide they need for the sport, but you can do it anywhere. That’s the heart of the sport — efficiency of glide. Over time it’s a great workout, but when you fine-tune that glide you just feel incredible.
I think the true joys of Nordic are getting into the backcountry, but you need those skills first. We have facilities, we have trained staff, we have rest huts, we have the right equipment, and we hope this gives people the opportunity to really get into the sport. The swap fits into that too, and this helps your child or anyone else who’s new stick with the right gear, the right size, so they enjoy the experience through the years. They can then join teams, get scholarships, travel to wonderful countries with beautiful people.”
Therese added, “I’ve really enjoyed my opportunity to travel, and there are opportunities through sport to build character, experience — a different kind of learning. Not everyone learns the same way. The outdoors is a classroom. It’s where Gene got his start when he was studying for his master’s degree in outdoor education, when he was studying the growth of outdoor skiing. That’s how he discovered Nordic: no one out here was doing Nordic back then, other than some guys in the backcountry, and he wanted to get into it. He was dragging a track setter behind him back then, and he’s still out there checking the snowmaking guns to this day.”