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DU Nordic ski team prepares on pavement

A crisp, fall day in Washington Park is the perfect place for a winter sports team to prepare in the off-season.

DENVER — A crisp, fall day in the middle of one of Denver's largest city parks isn't exactly where you'd imagine to find a collegiate ski team getting some laps in before the season, but for the University of Denver Nordic team, a lack of snow is not a reason to hang up the poles.

"We're here on an incredible fall day. The leaves are just starting to change here--still a little bit green here in Denver--but it's a nice, crisp morning for us to get a nice, quality workout in here and some final preparations before the snow starts to fly and we hit the trails this winter," Rogan Brown said.

Brown is in his first season at the helm of the DU Nordic team, after spending two previous seasons as the assistant coach. 

His squad can be seen taking laps around the 2.2 mile roadway loop, using roller skis and poles.

"We were out here in Wash Park doing what we call 'double pole intervals,' which is roller skiing where we only repeat one motion of poling. It's a little bit faster than we'd be going if we were on snow because there's more friction with the snow and we're on wheels, but it translates pretty well, I would say," senior Gracie Shanley said.

While the team may get a few odd looks from passersby and the occasional bark from a nearby dog, Brown insists this is the best way to stay in competition shape.

"In this sport, the skiers are really made in the summer and the fall, because once the winter is there, you really want the hay in the barn, so to speak and the preparation to lean on during the race season," he said. "It simulates our sport pretty much exactly, minus the surface. Just that repetitive motion, and that muscle memory just consistently builds into the fitness we're trying to reach come winter."

A lot of those memories have been burned into the muscles of these athletes for about a decade, especially the ones living and competing at altitude throughout their entire lives. 

"I really started competing heavily my freshman year of high school," senior Nick Sweeney said. "And for me, I thought I wanted to go cycling but being from Aspen, it's so much snow all of the time and just a great opportunity to ski as much as possible."

Sweeney earned the 2016 CHSAA individual title for boys Nordic skiing with Aspen High School. His current teammate, Shanley, competed for the Vail club team during the same years.

"I would say we have a huge home field advantage," she said. "I've been racing these courses in Colorado since I was in fifth grade and I know a lot of others on the team have as well. It's super special to continue doing that. It feels like we can show people from foreign countries how special Colorado is and take pride knowing it's our own home state."

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