How Aspen adopted rugby union

The countless parade of fine-dining eating places and designer boutiques I’m ready for. The labradoodle trotting down Aspen’s cobblestone streets wearing a Moncler ski jacket doesn’t look misplaced, both. And the sight of milky ski runs pouring down the face of Aspen Mountain matches precisely the image in my thoughts. What I’m not anticipating to seek out on this upmarket Colorado ski resort is a snow-blanketed rugby subject.

Wagner Park occupies prime actual property reverse the Limelight Resort within the centre of city (the place housing goes for as much as $US8000/$11,500 a sq foot). It’s the house floor of the Gents of Aspen, maybe essentially the most unlikely – and essentially the most unfathomably profitable – rugby staff within the US. How did it occur? I don’t should look far to seek out the reply. Crew captain Simon Dogbe works a number of doorways down from the Limelight Resort the place I’m staying, inside drop-kicking distance of Wagner Park. The Englishman arrived in Aspen in 2001, within the Gents’s heyday.

“It was unimaginable,” he says. “We had been just like the New York Yankees of rugby, stuffed with big-name gamers and beating everybody. It’s laborious to consider, in a means.”

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Gentlemen of Aspen rugby team in action in Aspen. Picture: Griff Lacey

The staff was fashioned in 1967, when Aspen was chosen because the venue for a brand new rugby event known as Ruggerfest. Eager for some native illustration, a newly arrived Englishman named Steve Sherlock did the rounds at native bars, recruiting rugby-playing ski bums from all around the world. Borrowing some purple and black jerseys from the basketball staff and emblazoning them with an enormous Aspen leaf, they christened themselves the Gents of Aspen, in honour of the Oscar Wilde quote: “Rugby is a barbarians’ recreation performed by gents. Soccer is a gents’s recreation performed by barbarians.” The staff wears the identical colors and brand right now.

Issues received critical within the late Eighties, when prime rugby gamers from world wide found they might come to Aspen and ski in the course of the winter, then keep on to play rugby in the summertime. In 1997, the staff claimed the nationwide title and went on to win the subsequent 5 nationwide championships in a row.

Australians have at all times been an integral a part of the staff. Queenslander Cameron McIntyre arrived in Aspen in 1993 and by no means left. He’s now the coach. “Lots of people come right here not understanding there’s a chance to play rugby, then spot the posts and begin asking round. It doesn’t take lengthy for them to seek out their tribe,” he says.

Aspen is best know for its ski scene.

Aspen is best know for its ski scene.

Dogbe agrees. “Rugby gamers are the identical breed in every single place. You flip up with a pair of trainers and earlier than you recognize it somebody’s providing you with a sofa to sleep on and a hook-up for a job. Particularly in Aspen, which has at all times been a melting pot of cultures.”

The appearance of the skilled period round 2015 meant the Gents now not had the assets to compete on the prime tier, however the ardour hasn’t diminished. The staff at present performs within the Rocky Mountain Rugby League, taking over fellow ski resort cities similar to Steamboat Springs, Vail and Breckenridge (in any other case generally known as Gents of the Blue Goose). Ruggerfest continues to be the spotlight of the rugby calendar.

“To play on that subject with that mountain behind you is simply magic,” says Dogbe. “Everybody who steps foot on that subject understands how particular it’s.”

As much as 4000 individuals are anticipated to crowd the sidelines for this yr’s event in September, when the Gents will attempt for his or her third title in a row. McIntyre says it’s the perfect time of yr to go to the city, with autumn colors ripening and the warm-weather actions nonetheless in full swing. “There’s a motive our gamers come for the winter and keep for the summer season. And Ruggerfest nonetheless has the perfect environment of any event, anyplace.”


The 55th Aspen Ruggerfest takes place September 14-17 at Wagner Park and Rio Grande Discipline in Aspen. Free entry.

Ricky French was a visitor of Travelplan and Colorado Ski Nation.

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Revealed : 2023-07-23 21:30:00

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