Skiing school: Elite skier Clint Roberts glad to share wealth
Barly on a summer morning when he was 11, Clint Roberts ran up a mountain.
It didn’t begin as a race to the top, and he couldn’t have known that stepping onto the summit would open the door to so much of what his life would become. It started off as a Boy Scout activity; his father was assistant Scout master.
Roberts and the rest of the troop were hiking Byers Peak, a 12,804-foot mountain that presides over the Fraser Valley. It began as a hike, but boys being boys, the pace picked up. Then picked up a little more. A little competition seemed inevitable.
“It turned into a race,” Clint recalled, laughing.
The trail got steeper and steeper, and Roberts just kept running. Sure, his muscles burned and his lungs strained, but his pace didn’t wane. He was first stepping onto the summit by a wide margin “and that was the first time I remember realizing I had this gift.”
That gift for endurance athletics took him around the world as a competitive Nordic skier and coach and now, at a slightly more mellow pace, he shares what he learned as an instructor and board member with the Grand Mesa Nordic Council.
“He’s a super-elite skier, but he’s so nice and accessible to skiers at a beginning level,” said Callie West, also a Grand Mesa Nordic Council board member. “He has years and years of experience, but ultimately he just loves skiing.”
He didn’t grow up in a skiing family, but was the third generation of his family to call Grand County home. His grandfather moved there from Nebraska in the 1920s to work on the Moffat Tunnel and his father, a 1946 Fraser High School graduate, worked on the Granby Dam.
Clint grew up a child of the mountains, roaming them in his free time, working in them alongside his father in the summers. His father did the logging and Clint guided the family’s two draft horses, Mamie and Spook.
After a childhood scare when he was washed down a flooded St. Louis Creek and saved by his mother, she enrolled him in swimming lessons. He was floating on his back in the pool, he said, when his swim instructor glanced over and noticed something was “wrong.” After class, his teacher told his parents that his chest didn’t look right.
“My rib cage is bigger than most people’s,” he explained, “and my ribs stick out. That probably has allowed my lungs to get bigger or expand more.”
On a sixth grade field trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, he tried skiing for one of the first times, using old-fashioned skis that, by switching a wire, could be used as Nordic or Alpine, depending on the terrain.
He enjoyed the skiing, but thought his athletic destiny lay in basketball. Until the other guys grew taller than him in high school, that is. So, at Middle Park High School in Granby, he joined the ski team and began his career in endurance athletics.
He participated in ski jumping, slalom, giant slalom after school, then raced cross country until dark.
Recognizing his talent, his coaches gave him a spot on the cross-country team and his senior year, as an anchor on the 4x10K relay, the team won the Rocky Mountain Division National Junior Championships.
Clint’s performance earned him notice from college scouts, and he received a full athletic scholarship to the University of Wyoming. While there, he placed 28th in the NCAA championships as a freshman and 11th as a sophomore, and was invited to compete in a Nordic race in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
“That really opened my eyes to the realm of what ski racing could do for me,” he explained.
After losing his scholarship to a Norwegian skier, Clint left Wyoming and went home to Grand County to run the Nordic program at Idlewild Ski Area, which his father helped build, until 1976. He then taught at the Vail Ski School under Steve Rieschl, former captain of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team.
While at Vail, Clint was invited to coach the cross-country running and ski teams at Western State College. That was followed, in the mid-1980s, by an invitation to coach at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. From there, he went to the Olympic Training Center in Australia, where he coached the junior national team for two years.
In 1988, as a 36-year-old athlete, Clint earned a spot on the U.S. National Development Team, which trains athletes for the Olympics. He placed 25th among the USA’s top 50 skiers invited to compete for the Olympic team’s eight spots.
That year, he also competed in the Tour du Massif through France, Italy and Switzerland, placing 41st among 200 elite cross-country skiers from around the world.
Through it all, he said, all the competition and training, has been the joy of skiing and being outside in the clear air and pristine mountains. Returning to Grand County, he shared that joy as coach of the Middle Park High School ski team, seeing them to the state championships in 1998.
During that time, and in the years that followed, he became a four-time National Masters Cross Country ski champion, training by skiing the 3,000-foot elevation gain up the Winter Park practice hill after it closed to Alpine skiers for the day. His 84-minute record up the seven-mile course equaled a 12-minute mile from 9,000 to 12,000 feet.
And because he was adamant about not being one-note, a man who was only an athlete, he got involved with politics in Hot Sulfur Springs, where he lived and spearheaded various environmental restoration projects.
In 2010, after meeting a lovely lady named Sally and after the economy tanked, he moved to Grand Junction, where he started a handyman business and got involved with the Grand Mesa Nordic Council. But the competitive fire still burns: Last year, entering the 20K Mesa Meltdown cross-country ski race on a whim, he finished third overall.
Now, though, he said his passion is getting involved and “giving back,” he explained. “I guess one of the human virtues is to have a sense of reciprocity, and in that spirit I want to teach and coach. I know that the learning curve is tough, but once you get some skills, then it becomes fun. The reward is the fun.”
On a recent Friday morning, at a women’s clinic taught by instructors from the Grand Mesa Nordic Council, Clint led a small group of relatively new skiers down a trail near the County Line trail head on Grand Mesa. It was a bluebird sky day and the sun glinted diamonds on feet of fresh powder.
“Let’s start off right now just walking on our skis,” Clint said, demonstrating an effortless, smooth glide down the groomed path. “Let’s leave our poles.”
Pennie Scanga and Chris Jauhola followed Clint down the trail, mimicking his swinging arms, his gliding feet, the smile stretched across his face.
All these years later, all these races and hours of training, all these miles around the world, all these sore muscles and screaming lungs, and it’s still fun. Under the lemonade February sun, through the crystal cold air, and it was still the thing that makes him grin.