Steamboat Springs The slopes of the Steamboat and Howelsen Hill ski areas will provide a perfect stage for the future stars of skiing this week during the J-4 Junior Olympic Championships.
"We are going to have 150 skiers in town this week from all around the Rocky and Central divisions," Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach Tony Nunnikhoven said. "This is a chance to give these skiers, and visitors, a real good snapshot of what Steamboat Springs is all about."
Young skiers, between the ages of 11 and 12, will race against one another in super-G, giant slalom and slalom races. But the event isn't all about winning.
Skiers will also get a chance to attend several social events designed to introduce them to new friends. Organizers will also take advantage of the races to teach the young athletes about the importance of winning and losing gracefully.
"We really want to stress sportsmanship at this age," race organizer Barb Shipley said. "Who wins is not as important as how they respond to winning or losing."
That's why the events kicked off last night with a special presentation by Rick Brown on sportsmanship.
Skiers will also be introduced and encouraged to cheer for racers from other teams through the Island Cup a special competition where skiers randomly put on teams and then are given points for results and displays of sportsmanship.
"We really want to hit that hard," Nunnikhoven said. "We want the athletes and their parents to understand that skiing isn't just about winning."
The skiing events will get under way today with an afternoon of training on the Sitz/See Me racecourse. The stakes will be a lot higher on Thursday as the racers take to the course for the first time in competition. Racing will begin at 9 a.m. and events will include both girls and boys races.
On Friday, the race action will return to Mount Werner for the giant slalom. The first run is scheduled for 8:45 a.m. and the second runs will follow in the afternoon.
The championships will draw to a close on Saturday with the final event the slalom.
These races will take place at Howelsen Hill starting at 8:45 a.m. In addition to racing, the skiers will also be treated to a barbeque lunch.
"That should be a fun day," Shipley said of Saturday. "We've got a lot of fun events planned and the atmosphere will be pretty laid back as things start to wind down."
The J-4 championships are one of the first steps young skiers will make along the road to the higher levels of skiing in the United States.
"It's one of the very first steps these skiers will make," Nunnikhoven said. "They have never been in an event like this before and it's really exciting to watch them grow."
Many top-level J-4 skiers go on to successful careers and a few make the final move to the ranks of the U.S. Ski Team.
Nunnikhoven estimated that the races would bring between 600 and 700 visitors to town for the weeklong event. The skiers, family and coaches will come from Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Idaho and Michigan.