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The Woodland Park High School mountain bike team will be competing at the state championships in Durango Oct. 23-24.

By Marcus Stanley’s account, he crashes about once every 20 rides. Don’t worry about him, though.

It’s part of the sport of mountain biking.

“Usually, it’s not too bad,” he said.

Stanley is a junior rider with the Woodland Park High School mountain bike team, which, along with nearly 100 other teams, competes in the Colorado High School Cycling League. Eight Panthers will race in Division 2 at the state championships in Durango on Oct. 23-24.

The Woodland Park riders compete as a club team. Many of them got started during their elementary- and middle-school years, thanks to programs started by local teachers.

So by the start of high school, they already have a good understanding of the sport. They are familiar with the mechanics of a mountain bike and with their surroundings. Living so close to the mountains and multiple trails, the riders have plenty of options.

“These kids want to be here,” Panthers coach Paul Gabaldon said last week before a practice at Lovell Gulch Trail, just a short ride from WPHS. “They want to be active. They have parents who are bikers, hikers and that type of thing. We have several parents that are coaches. It’s a great experience. These kids are self-motivated.”

Gabaldon is a retired juvenile detention administrator from Arizona. He’s been riding since the 1990s and has helped coach the WPHS team since 2019. He took over as head coach this season.

“I have about six to seven very dedicated coaches who help me with practices and races,” Gabaldon said. “I couldn’t make this team happen without them and our team organizer, Julie Frater.”

The Panthers were part of a Teller County composite team about seven years ago, Gabaldon said. A few years later, it became a team at Woodland Park. Since then, they haven’t had an issue recruiting riders — thanks to coaches introducing the sport to them when they were younger.

Nowadays, the co-ed team boasts 24 riders.

Eight of them will compete on the state’s biggest stage later this month. In addition to Stanley, the riders are Tucker Elliot, Sophia Stanley, Mason Johnson, Chloe Limburg, Mia Frater, Julissa Molter and Zach Frater.

The Panthers feature two legacy riders — who have raced all four years in high school — in Molter and Zach Frater.

The team has been working toward state all season.

The Panthers finished second in the crystal division team standings at the regional finals called the Haymaker Classic in Eagle. This season, they had three podium finishes (top five): Johnson took fourth at the Cloud City Challenge in Leadville, while Frater finished fourth at Snowmassive in Snowmass and fifth at regionals.

Frater has always been around mountain bikers. She used to watch her older brother Zach, now a senior at WPHS and her team member, compete when she was younger.

And now, she’s looking forward to the challenges of the state championships.

“I love being a part of the team,” she said. “Everyone is super nice, especially the girls. We have a close bond. We have a really small group. It’s really nice having a team and I love the coaches.”

Editorial assistant

Chhun Sun is the editorial assistant of the four Pikes Peak Newspapers. A Thailand-born Cambodian-American, he joined The Gazette's staff in April 2015 — covering everything from public safety to sports and outdoors to local/state politics.

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