SHERIDAN — This winter, Sheridan Junior High School counselor Rebecca Atterbury and Antelope Butte Foundation Executive Director John Kirlin are working to expand cross-country skiing opportunities for Sheridan County students.
Kirlin and Atterbury moved to the Sheridan area around the same time and knew each other from ski racing at the University of Wyoming. Atterbury contacted Kirlin about trying to create an opportunity for students to cross-country ski.
“As a school district employee, it helped, it made sense to have her involved in this regard because ideally we’d like to have a full-fledged cross-country as well as downhill ski team with the schools,” Kirlin said.
The team is divided into two groups, an after-school program at Sheridan Junior High School and a club team at Antelope Butte made up of SJHS and Sheridan High School students.
The high school and junior high school club team will train at Antelope Butte but compete as members of the Laramie High School team under a combination school agreement, where they’ll have the chance to earn varsity letters.
Junior high school students who wish to compete will do so alongside the high school students.
Last year, Sheridan High School student Ali Magelky competed with the Laramie High School team as the only student skier from the Sheridan area.
Sheridan High School activities director Don Julian said that clubs typically fundraise, but the club could eventually become a varsity team and receive more school support, since the Wyoming High School Activities Association recognizes the sport.
“It’s been kind of our M.O. [modus operandi] over the years that if a club can show growth and the ability to sustain itself then we try to find ways to continue to help them grow,” Julian said.
Atterbury said the group has eight competitions planned for this season at Jackson Hole, Casper, Cody, Pinedale and Laramie. The first competition will take place Dec. 6 and 7 in Casper. The group will host a junior high state race at Antelope Butte on Jan. 18, and the state championship will take place in Casper.
Thirty-five students and parents attended a meeting about the new club recently.
Throughout the rest of the state, Cody, Lander, Jackson, Pinedale, Laramie and both Casper high schools each have varsity teams. Some of these have alpine racing teams alongside the cross-country teams.
In addition to Antelope Butte, Atterbury said she hopes the team will be able to practice in Kendrick Park this year as well as the trails surrounding Sibley Lake.
The Antelope Butte Foundation donated the hardware portion of the gear like skis, bindings and boots this year, though the group will hold a drive to outfit students with the proper winter clothing.
Kirlin said the foundation now has about 70 pairs of skis in different sizes they can provide to students to practice and get the feel for the sport before renting or purchasing their own.
Atterbury said she’s grateful for the donations and hopes to be able to keep costs down so any interested student can participate.
Sheridan County School District 2 will support the after-school group with local transportation to practice areas, but for the club, the students are on their own for transportation for the time being.
Atterbury said the two main factors restricting group size currently are transportation costs and the amount of donated ski gear.
“We hope to grow our numbers and have the district decide to recognize it as a sanctioned sport in the future,” Kirlin said.
Last season was the first year that Antelope Butte opened since 2004.
Last year, Kirlin began teaching a weeklong skiing fundamentals clinic for elementary school students during physical education classes.
“They learn just the fundamentals of balance and athletic body position on snow at the school, and I groom and I provide skis and (teach) about 50 to 60 fifth-graders or fourth-graders at the same time, and then on the Friday they come up and do some downhill lessons,” Kirlin said.
This year, Kirlin said the resort will host additional weekend clinics and other events later in the season.
The resort’s lodge is currently under construction, and Kirlin said he hopes to have it open for occupancy for the resort’s opening day set for Dec. 20. The current main project is the emergency water system.