Nederland's Quin Kuechenmeister always has mixed feelings about the month of December.
As one who loves to get his competitive juices flowing — whether it's out on the football field, on the track or on the slopes, the two-month gap between the end of the prep football season and the beginning of the ski season is excruciating and invigorating all at the same time.
Invigorating every time he sees a little trace of snow falling from the skies, at the very least.
"When the snow starts to fall, you find yourself going out to the garage and taking a peek at your skis, wondering how long it's going to be before you get to use them," Kuechenmeister said this week. "You do get kind of antsy, but that helps build things up so you're ready to go all out when that time comes."
Kuechenmeister and his teammates indeed finally got to break out the racing skis this past weekend as the Panthers began their short season with positive results under new coach Montana Fels.
A team that has a great mix of experienced state contenders and new racers representing nearly every Boulder County high school, Kuechenmeister's vibe for the team's prospects is already on the ascent after the boys finished second as a team and the girls third at an alpine event at Loveland on Friday.
"We had a lot of freshmen step up so far on the boys side already, and I think seven or eight guys already qualified for state," Kuechenmeister said. "Everybody has things we can work on still, so it's nice to have something that we can progress on as we go through the season. That's big in helping us try and capture a state title this year."
Every weekend leading up to the state championships (Feb. 25-26 in Aspen) will feature an alpine event followed by a nordic event, and Fels has an excellent base of skiers to work with.
As she gets acquainted with the high school scene as opposed to the club skiing scene, Fels in her first year has her sights set on meeting each individual's goals with the idea that as a team they will benefit. But, she also hopes the student-athletes take away skills that can fulfill a lifelong pursuit of the sport.
"What's great about having (50) kids is that we have a variety of abilities, and it's awesome that we can offer them a chance to learn the sport and become better skiers for just $185," said Fels, who has coached lacrosse and volleyball in the district in the past. "We do have kids that have never raced, and we also have kids who didn't want to commit as much time as what the clubs require.
"I would love for all of our top athletes to represent us well at state, and that's all based on what they expressed to me as goals. For everyone, really, it's just growing confidence on the hill."
The Panthers are coming off a season that crowned an individual champ (Sophie De Fries, girls slalom) and had some other high placings in slalom and giant slalom. Kuechenmeister finished eighth in slalom and 17th in the giant slalom, while Jacob Scheiffler (Monarch) placed 13th in the giant slalom. Cole Skilbred and Trig Campbell also return hoping to improve state placings.
On the girls side, Cassidy Donohue (Dawson School) was 14th in the giant slalom and Taylor Folwell and Brita Luscher (Boulder) were in the top 30, and Luscher was ninth in the slalom. Delaney Pratt placed 10th in the GS.
Donohue, Folwell and Luscher all finished in the top 16 at Loveland.
"For the first race, with everyone still figuring everything out, to do that well was great," said Folwell, who attends Fairview. "I really think we can expect to do even better the next couple races."
"The most important thing for me is being a leader for this team," Kuechenmeister added. "It's my job as a captain to help teammates learn to love the sport, not just how to win. That's the impact I really want to have."
Nederland will also have one athlete going after the title of Skimeister — Nederland attendee Scout Edmondson.