Building a Culture: a Night Under the Full Moon with the Cross Country Team

“You know, it’s about building a culture.” Rick Kapala explains in a quick moment between rotating Dutch ovens over the bonfire. Kapala serves something like a knock-off version of raclette to passing skiers: cheese cubessausage, potatoes and bread warmed over the fire. Some skiers stop long enough for a few bites and a quick exchange with the coaches before skating off again. Others pop out of their skis and take refuge from the sharp chill of the February evening around the fire. Between cooking up the snacks, teasing athletes and shooting the breeze with parents, Kapala barely has a moment to pause. “I mean, you know it from hearing the kids’ senior speeches when they finish the program. It’s never about the races. It’s about ‘oh, I love my friends, I love my coaches.’ It’s about culture and community.” Kapala adds. 

The full moon crests over the peaks opposite the bonfire at 8:10 PM, February 27th, but the team-wide full moon cross country ski is well underway. The evening started at 5:30 PMall teams, all athletes, and all athlete families invited. The younger athletes turn up with their families first; some of them are so tiny, they barely stand at their parents’ hip as they demonstrate how to apply kick-wax. The older athletes trail in slightly later, bantering coyly with one another as they gear up. At the trailhead, a cardboard sign warns of yeti sightings in the area. The only way to escape the yeti, of course, is to outrun it on skis. 

Luminaries along the trail light the way to the first bonfire, in the Lake Creek ‘stadium,’ where Cross Country races typically start and finish. If you’ve made it this far without a yeti intrusion, the first bonfire offers a moment of respite with marshmallow roasting and s’mores. Just up the hill from this first stop is bonfire number 2, with hot chocolate and cookies. Finally, bonfire number 3 burns steadily—lit early, as to provide coals for the Dutch ovens filled to the brim with sausageon a ridge overlooking the rest of the loop 

Of course, the festivities hardly seem to be limited to the stops along the route; athletes big and small congregate on the trails to ski together, or to say a properly-distanced hello to their teammates’ families, even to build a jump or two and boast their interdisciplinary winter sport skills with a couple of tricksThere was not a single smile missing from any face, despite some definitively cold toes and fingers.  

As the community of athletes, parents and siblings of every age and level make their way, romping and laughing, through the Lake Creek landscape in the dark blue twilight, there’s a certain collective awe for the place we live in, and for opportunities like these. It’s the sort of night that gets at the soul of why we do it all, whether an athlete, coach or parent: we do it, ultimately, because of our total appreciation for playing in the mountains, and our adoration of those like-minded souls who go out and play with us. 

So how do you build a culture? You practice bringing this community together, and finding an opportunity to remind them how they came together in the first place: playing in the mountains. Incorporating a yeti costume and some fire-roasted cheese helps too.