Wednesday, November 8, 2000
Steamboat Springs The small crowd gathered at the base of Howelsen Hill let out a collective cheer as nordic combined skier Carl Van Loan cleared the knoll of the normal hill Wednesday afternoon.
Hours of hard work by city employees, volunteers, coaches and athletes had paid off.
Howelsen Hill became the first place in North America to officially open its jump hill beating out Park City by a matter of hours.
"It took a lot of people shoveling snow, but we made it happen," U.S. Nordic Combined Coach Tom Steitz said. "We earned the bragging rights for another year."
On Wednesday afternoon, Van Loan, Matt Dayton and Kris Erichsen took the first jumps of the season despite the fact that Yampa Valley Electric Association had shut off the power to the poma and the lodge.
The skiers were escorted to the top of the hill in snow cats.
"It's a good feeling," Van Loan said of making the first jump. "We make a lot of jumps during the season, but we always remember who took the first one on snow."
Van Loan and the other jumpers were thrilled after their first rides in Steamboat.
All of them said the hill was in mid-winter condition.
"It's as good as it ever gets, and that is pretty good," Van Loan said.
There were several groups of jumpers in town to take advantage of the opening, including members of the U.S. Nordic Combined team and Canadian Ski Jumping teams.
Steamboat Springs jump coach Todd Wilson said he was happy to have the jumps open for the season and thanked all the different people and departments that made it possible.
"This was a team effort," Wilson said.
He credited the Howelsen ski area for taking advantage of prime weather conditions to make snow, the volunteers who shoveled it into place and the city and Steamboat Ski area for helping out in a number of different ways.
Wilson, who has not been to bed before 2:30 a.m. the past three days, said the hill may have opened slightly earlier last year. Still, this opening is in line with what has happened in the past.
The difference this year, Wilson said, is the terrific condition of the hill for ski jumping.
He credited a new program that uses the ice shaved off of the skating rink surface to provided the snow for the in-run. Wilson said Howelsen is unique in that temperatures are usually several degrees warmer at the top of the hill than they are at the bottom. This makes it hard to make snow at the top of the hill and finishing the in-run normally holds things up.
But not this year. For the first time, the ice shavings from the ice rink were trucked to the top of the hill and used to cover the in-run.
"We are proud that we got it open first," said Jeff Nelson, ski area & rodeo supervisor. "It's a big deal to us and something that is very important."
Nelson said the ice rink program was experimental this year, but he felt that it was successful and thinks it will continue again next winter.
"This year we were blessed with great weather," Nelson said. "That really helped. But we were prepared to get the jumps open without snow and I think the plan would have worked. "
Wilson said the earliest the jumps have opened is Oct. 26.
He added that opening in the first week of November is pretty average.
"It's like shooting par," Wilson said. "If we had opened any later it would be like shooting a bogie."
He did say that beating Park City to the opening was important to everyone involved.
The ski jumps in Park City were scheduled to open this morning.
However, beating that $35 million dollar operation in Utah in the future might be more difficult.
"They can make enough snow to cover their jump hills in 48 hours," Wilson said. "That's going to be hard to beat."
But in the year 2000 Steamboat did beat the future site of the Olympic Games and will hold the bragging rights for at least one more year.
The first jump to open was in Vuokatti, Finland on Nov. 2. Rain in the area has since forced the jumps to close.
To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.