Saturday, September 1, 2001
You don't need snow to ski jump these days. The proof is six hours to the west of Steamboat Springs, where Olympic hopefuls have spent the summer training on plastic jumps at Olympic Park in Park City, Utah.
The ski jumps at Park City, which will host the skiing events at the 2002 Olympics, are only nine years old. But last year, those jumps received a $21 million facelift that turned Olympic Park into a year-round training facility. With a soft plastic surface from the top of the jumps down through the landing areas, jumpers can work on their form as easily in July as in February.
In contrast, the jumps at Steamboat's historic Howelsen Hill are little more than an idle curiosity for Triple Crown players riding the Alpine Slide during the summer months. The jumps are closed more than half of the year.
A group called the Colorado Olympian Project wants to change that. The group of Olympians, ski industry executives, politicians and business people is trying to create momentum for upgrading Colorado's Olympic facilities, starting with the jumps at Howelsen Hill, a project that could cost more than $10 million.
Group members are pressing the state for funding, starting with a grant request for $50,000 as seed money to study the feasibility of the project. The group has compelling arguments that the Howelsen jumps are worth the state's investment.
Colorado is the nation's Winter Olympics capital, with more than 250 former Olympians. Of that number, 90 live in the Steamboat Springs area. The state is home to the U.S. Olympic Committee, and more Olympians have trained here than in any other state. Howelsen Hill alone has been the training site for more than 50 Olympians with more Olympic appearances, 75, than any facility in the country.
But fewer and fewer of our Olympians are training here. Twenty-five are training in Park City. Developmental squads are there. Nordic combined hopefuls are there.
Part of that is to be expected; after all, Park City is the ski venue for the Olympics. It's only natural that Olympians would want to train at the site where they are going to compete. But even after the Olympics end, Park City will still have the nation's best ski jump facilities, at least until something better is built someplace else.
Given its rich history and tradition, Howelsen Hill would seem to be the natural place. Here's hoping the Colorado Olympian Project can a find a way and the money to make it happen.