THORNTON, Colorado - Nearly 1,000 fans came out to support the Colorado Alpenglow, a semi-professional team of women and non-binary ultimate frisbee players, on their season home opener at the Pinnacle Athletic Complex.
During the April 8 competition in Thornton, the Alps rewarded fans, snagging their first victory of the season in a 19-16 win over the Utah Wild.
The support hasn’t waned since.
Formed in 2020, the Alpenglow is one of eight teams in the Western Ultimate League (WUL), born from the belief that “women and non-binary athletes deserve to be seen and their abilities showcased in the form of professional-level stadium games that are broadcast for the world to see.”
This season was the WUL’s first due to delays caused by the pandemic.
The season doesn’t last long, consisting of only eight regular season matchups before a championship tournament weekend in Seattle on June 3. The Alps went 3-5 on the season, which wasn’t enough to qualify them for postseason play.
Still, co-founder and player Jess Larson said the first season was a success.
“I think anyone involved [in the Alpenglow] would have liked to achieve our competitive goals,” Larson said. “But I think in that [first] home game, it was just everything kind of coming together. Rewinding up to six months ago to stepping out onto the field and seeing the community come out and show support, it was a little overwhelming honestly.”
They had an idea of what the attendance numbers were going to be. But to see the crowd for the first time—with little girls’ painted faces and big cutouts of the players’ heads in the stands—Larson said it surpassed the team’s expectations.
Larson has been playing ultimate frisbee competitively for over a decade, with a tenacious focus on expanding opportunities for girls and women in the sport.
Now to see many young girls and others interested in the sport, perhaps that wouldn’t have without the representation the WUL puts on display, it’s been rewarding.
"It was one heck of a ride for an inaugural season," added Betsy Basch, co-founder and player. "There was so much learning, growth, support, and stress. Wanting to put out a great product that people will like and support is a huge responsibility that we take really seriously. We want to help build something that will continue to be integrated with our community for years to come."
A focus on the youth in the community was one of the foundational pillars of creating the Alpenglow, even in the beginning talks, Larson said. The team wanted to be a beacon of visibility for young people to look up to.
“If girls come to games or watch a streamed game, just knowing that this could be them when they grow up and providing more visibility. Just getting more frisbee out there and have it be a concrete thing that a kid can look up to,” Larson said.
"Although we don’t have ultimate-specific research yet, sports research in general gives us a lot of clues that when kids and youth see powerful athletes that they know or can see in their community playing professionally, they can see that it’s an option for them too," Basch added. "Seeing women and non-binary athletes means that youth across the gender spectrum can see there’s a professional sport that doesn’t just accept who they are, but celebrates who they are, is visionary."
Phil Lohre is one of five managers of the team. He said he was eager to get involved because he’s seen first-hand how difficult it can be for girls and women to see the same level of coverage and opportunity as male athletes.
“I have played for decades. But my daughter plays in a pro league out of Washington D.C., so I’ve seen how difficult it’s been for women athletes and women teams to get the same kind of spotlight that men do,” Lohre said. “When I heard that friends were putting together the team, I really wanted to be involved.”
Colorado has one of the best ultimate club scenes in the country, he added, boasting national champions year after year with interest from different audiences.
Lohre sad he knew the community would come out in big numbers for the Alps, but was surprised at how supportive it would be off the bat.
“We hope it lasts and grows forever," he said. "The response from the community has just been fabulous with the turnout at games…we’re a community-based team. A number of investors for the team have come together and made it happen. Four or five different club teams, maybe more, have contributed players. I think Colorado is a great place."
While happy with support and first season play - there were challenges in the inaugural year.
One challenge has been transportation and travel, Lohre said. Teams on the coasts have the luxury of going back and forth along the coast, but in Colorado, the closest rival is in Salt Lake City.
As the team continues to grow, and merchandise, ticket sales, and other revenue streams increase, the team is primed for a bright future in the WUL, largely thanks to community support, Lohre said.
The team partners with the local Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and other local disc organizers to spread awareness and joy of the sport to places it might be lacking.
The rosters will fluctuate year by year as players’ circumstances change, but over 100 players showed up for tryouts last November, Lohre said.
While experienced players are ideal, everyone is encouraged to try out if they’re interested when the next tryouts are held this fall.
There were also dozens of volunteers on game days to make operations happen, he said. In short, the demand and interest for the sport is there, but it may be untapped in certain areas.
Lohre’s focus as a manager is to expand that influence to other communities throughout Colorado.
There was deliberation about what the team should be called. Larson said a select few members of the team, which now employs more than 24 players and two practice players, were in a group chat floating ideas around. A vote was held, and the Alpenglow was the winner.
Though Larson admits it doesn’t roll off the tongue beautifully, the name is fitting for a Colorado team. The term refers to the rosy light of a setting or rising sun as displayed on high mountain peaks. Perhaps “the Alps”, a little easier, will catch on.
As the sun sets on the Alps’ inaugural season, the end result isn’t what Colorado sports fans, or athletes, are accustomed to or satisfied with. But the future is bright, and with a strong early turnout and show of support from the community, it’s clear the team is primed for success as they glide into the future.
You can almost see next season on the horizon.