Steamboat Springs No one wants to put any more pressure on Todd Lodwick and his fellow Nordic combined skiers this weekend. But if they were to pull off a medal-winning performance, it could certainly add a boost to a local drive to upgrade the ski jumps at Howelsen Hill.
"Just the fact that we have so many participants is already a positive," said John Adams, the new chairman of the committee.
Medal or not, the local group is pushing ahead to complete phase one of the project by next summer so the 2006 Olympic Nordic combined and special jumping teams can potentially be on the hill by the summer of 2004.
The Colorado Ski Heritage Project is building momentum even as Steamboat's hometown heroes fly off the jumps at the newly built Utah Olympic Park near Park City. The project to put plastic on the jumps has already received state money that went toward studying the jumps and their cost.
Now, the committee is seeking the big bucks about $5.5 million for phase one of the upgraded jumps, which would include just the K-114 and the K-65. The three other jumps, including the K-88, will have to wait.
The members of the committee have lobbied state legislators in the past few months to try to get them behind the cause before they are asked to allocate funds to the project.
Park City's Utah Olympic Park, the site of this year's Olympic special jumping and Nordic combined events, is challenging Steamboat as the premier jumping facility in the West. Built only two years ago for upwards of $20 million, the three main jumps are outfitted with plastic and allow jumpers to take off and land year-round. Summertime competitions draw skiers from all across the world. More importantly, however, plastic surfaces have allowed skiers to make major strides training during the summer so they could put their new skills to work when the big competitions begin in the winter.
Some of Steamboat's athletes and coaches have already been pulled away to train and teach at the new facility and more have been pressured to take the six-hour drive west. Some fear the legacy that tens of world-class jumpers who have called Steamboat home and more than 50 total Olympians at last count built over the past century is now in jeopardy.
The committee hopes to get the money from three main sources so far: the state's Energy Impact fund, the U.S. Olympic Committee and private benefactors.
All three pitches present their own difficulties. The Energy Impact fund may be the hardest sell, given the limitations and the parameters of the fund, which is paid for with severance taxes on coal mines and other mineral extractors. It is meant to help communities deal with the impacts of mineral extraction.
In places such as La Plata County, Energy Impact funds make up an important part of the budget for items like roads and infrastructure.
State Sen. Pat Pascoe, D-Denver, said communities have to prove the money is needed to off-set some of the unintended consequences of mineral development, such as the impact on schools and roads and the overall tax base from the increase in activity and population.
"They (state legislators) wanted to make sure the public wasn't left holding the bill for those costs," she said.
Local mineral extraction companies Routt County happens to be the largest coal-producing county in Colorado have endorsed the project wholeheartedly and think the state should use the impact funds to pay for the jumps. A number of state legislators and Gov. Bill Owens have also endorsed the project and have given initial indications of their willingness to appropriate state dollars toward it.
And though Utah took some criticism for using Energy Impact money to fund its Olympic venues, the heritage committee is pretty sure it can convince the state that the money is needed, mainly because Steamboat's economy would be hurt if and when the mineral industry leaves.
Because Steamboat is a ski and recreation town, it will need to keep its ski industry strong if other industries leave.
Kevin Bennett, the former City Council president, said the pitch may not be immediately obvious but it does hold water.
"A very critical component of the town's future once the mineral industry begins to fade and someday it will is recreation," Bennett said.
"Ski Town USA's identity is closely tied to jumping and Nordic combined."
The committee is also looking to the U.S. Olympic Committee for support both financially and in spirit. The committee has asked the USOC for $1 million.
Steamboat hopes to convince the USOC and Park City officials that two world-class ski jumping venues will be better than one for the future of the sport.
"You can't really improve your program without competition," Adams said.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in the project so far, however, is the committee's ability to raise $150,000 from private benefactors.
They are seeking $250,000 to be used to match the grant and have found the local community knows just how important this project is.