Pinnacle of competition

World-class freestyle and nordic events coming to Steamboat in December

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— Local ski fans hoping to get a taste of Olympic-caliber competition this winter will not have to wait until February and make the six-hour drive to Salt Lake City.

That's because the international spotlight will focus on Steamboat Springs in December as World Cup freestyle and nordic combined events come to town Dec. 13-18.

The jumps and cross-country courses at Howelsen will also play host to Gold Cup nordic combined and special jumping Olympic qualifying events Dec. 19. The Gold Cup is one last chance for athletes to qualify for the Olympic Games, which will take place in Salt Lake City in February 2002.

"This is a big deal," said Todd Wilson, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club nordic director. "It's made for television, but it should be pretty exciting."

The events will bring the top 20 American jumpers and the top 20 nordic combined skiers to Steamboat for a chance to make the Olympic cut and also cash in on a $10,000 winner-take-all check. The event has happened only once before, and that was before the 1998 Games.

"We are going to be a little busy in December," ski area spokeswoman Cathy Wiedemer said Monday.

The bustling month of action will begin with the return of Sprint U.S. Freestyle Grand National World Cup to the Steamboat Ski Area. The event didn't happen last year, but U.S. Ski Team officials and the leadership of the Steamboat Ski Area has worked out a deal to make it happen in 2001.

Steamboat is expected to host both men's and women's single and dual format mogul events at the Park Smalley Freestyle Complex starting Dec. 13.

"It's great, especially when you consider Steamboat's deep roots in freestyle skiing" said Andy Wirth, the Steamboat Ski Area's vice president of marketing. "This is a great opportunity in an Olympic year."

It will be the first freestyle World Cup event since December 1999, when Steamboat hosted both mogul and aerial events at the Smalley site. This time around, however, there will be no aerials.

"When we signed on to do an event in mid-December, we decided it would be best to focus on the mogul side of things," Wirth said.

Wirth said the ski area felt there was just too much risk and too much pressure in trying to get the freestyle jumps ready by the middle of December.

This setup will allow the snowmaking crews on the mountain to get the Voodoo mogul course in top shape for the World Cup skiers and also allow them to keep working on the rest of the mountain.

Wirth said this World Cup event will offer the top mogul skiers in the world a chance to tune up in an all-important Olympic year. He added that Steamboat is a prime location because the elevation, course and conditions are very similar to those in Deer Valley, Utah, where the freestyle events will be held during this year's Olympic Games.

"I think this will be a pivotal event," Wirth said. "This could be a sneak peek at the skiers who will win Olympic titles."

In another Olympic preview, Steamboat will host the Ski Town USA Nordic Combined World Cup for the eighth straight year. That event will open Dec. 16 with a sprint event (normal hill jumping, following by a 7.5-kilometer cross-country race) and will continue Dec. 18 with jumping on the big hill and a 15-kilometer cross-country event.

The whirlwind week will come to a close with the Gold Cup competition for special jumpers and nordic combined skiers who still have hopes of making the U.S. Olympic team. The winners receive a wild-card berth to the Olympic Games in Utah.

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