You can’t think about the state of Colorado without thinking about the mountains.

That’s why, when the Rapids released their new Class 5 Kit, the club also formed a partnership that is close to the heart of many Coloradans, one that supports the livelihood of the mountains and their ecosystems through the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.

CFI’s goal is to ensure every mountain of 14,000 or more feet, or “fourteener”, has at least one sustainable summit route to help minimize impacts to the surrounding alpine terrain and protect those routes through maintenance and education of the trail users.

“The alpine ecosystem is incredibly fragile. Many of the plants that we see have been there in development for hundreds or thousands of years and they can be trampled or killed with just a few footsteps,” said Emily Olsen, Rocky Mountain Region Director for the National Forest Foundation. “It’s really important that people who are enjoying the mountains and fourteeners are staying on trails and staying where they’re supposed to be, so that incredibly fragile and unique alpine ecosystem is persevered.”

These fourteeners – or ”approachable Everests” as Lloyd Athearn, Executive Director of CFI referred to them – have many draws. They offer unforgettable views, an extremely trying challenge, and the opportunity to experience rare environments. CFI doesn’t want to discourage exploration; they just want people to do so safely and responsibly.

“Sometimes, plants that are rare in Colorado, or in the U.S. or sometimes that are rare in the world are up there,” Athearn said. “It’s really important people stay on the trail and don’t get off on to the vegetation. The more that we can protect this, the more we can allow people to use and experience these peaks, and we can protect the natural ecosystem, all the plants and animals that are native to the mountains.”

This conversation is becoming even more important, as traffic on these mountains has seen a significant increase.

“We’re still tabulating some trail counters that we have, but our estimate is that over 400,000 people were up on the fourteeners last season, which was about 20 percent more than we saw in 2018, our prior high year,” Athearn explained. “That’s what’s great about Colorado, but it’s also important that everyone going up there understands how unique it is and that they need to have their behavior fit the sensitive alpine zones – not like a more robust soccer pitch.”

This partnership between CFI and the Rapids is one that fits together naturally. Embossed on the new Class 5 Kit is the authentic topographic map of six different iconic fourteeners in the state. The collaboration is also one that had an immediate connection to Athearn, who is a big Rapids fan; he even took his now-wife on their first date to a playoff game in 1997.

“The Rapids have a broad reach on the whole Front Range communities, and we see this as an opportunity to educate people on the fourteeners, both on what’s inspiring about them and on what’s needed to continue protecting them,” Athearn said. “The Rapids have also always been a big part of our family and one of the key things we like about Colorado.”

The next step for us to better protect our ecosystem starts with education. While people often think about the physical preparation required to trek a famous fourteener, the knowledge one must accrue can’t be ignored.

“I think you could probably count on one hand the number of people that want to go up on the mountains and behave irresponsibly,” Athearn said. “Helping people really understand what is important about the area and how your behavior can dramatically impact it, either positively or negatively, most people are going to be very responsible about that… Because, for many people, climbing a fourteener might be one of the most amazing and challenging experiences that they do.”

“Just take the time to go online, go on Colorado Fourteeners Initiative’s website, look at the resources they have or their YouTube channel, where they have incredible videos, helping people prepare for the mountains, would be really important steps before ever hitting the road and getting in the car to go climb a fourteener,” Olsen said.

For the 2021 season, the Rapids partnership with CFI provides fans with the option of making a donation to CFI when purchasing a Class 5 jersey from Altitude Authentics. Proceeds from the sales of Class 5 jersey patches, which were launched in conjunction with the Class 5 jersey, will also be donated to CFI.

These donations will help CFI complete several large-scale trail reconstruction projects over the next five years on Mount Wilson, Mount Shavano and Mount Princeton.

For more information on the partnership, click here.

For more information about CFI, click here.