Howelsen Hill has given birth to national champions, Olympic contenders and one of the country's most celebrated skiing traditions. But in all its years, the ski area has never been part of crowning a high school state champion.
That will change Saturday when Howelsen plays host to the Colorado High School Skiing Championships.
"I'm a little nervous right now," skiing coach Chris Arnis said Wednesday. "I know that Steamboat Springs will put on a first-class event, and I'm just hoping that my kids will stand up and finish the race."
Arnis, who will retire as the Sailors coach after Saturday's final race, has been taking skiers to the state championships for the past seven years.
"I'm so excited to get to ski at Howelsen Hill," Sailor racer Jeff Dye said. "I don't have to get up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. to go to a ski race. I just have to wake up like normal, eat breakfast and go race." It also will be a chance for Dye to win a state title on the slopes where he has trained for the entire season.
The races begin with a giant slalom event at 9:30 a.m. Friday on the Sitz/See Me ski run at the Steamboat Ski Area.
On Saturday, the Alpine team will move to Howelsen Hill for a slalom event at 9:30 a.m.
In high school ski racing, the Alpine and Nordic skiers compete for the state title as a single team. The results from the Alpine races in the morning are added to the Nordic results in the afternoon to compile a team score. The team with the best score after two days and four events wins.
The Nordic races open at 3 p.m. Friday with a classic race at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center. The freestyle, or skate race, will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday at Howelsen.
Organizing committee member Deb Smith said she was nervous but confident all the details would fall into place to make a memorable state championship competition in Steamboat.
Arnis hopes the event will be particularly memorable for the Sailors.
He said the limited number of Steamboat skiers on the Alpine side will make it challenging, but not impossible, for Steamboat to ski away with an overall title.
Dye is one of three skiers on the Sailors' boys team. A full high school squad has four skiers or more, but that hasn't dampened Dye's outlook for the weekend's races.
"I think we have a shot," Dye said. "We've got some very good skiers on this team, and hopefully we can do something."
Dye will join teammate Thomas Allen in Friday's giant slalom race. He will return for Saturday's slalom with teammate Ian Landy.
The numbers are better for the Steamboat girls, but they also will need a strong showing from the Alpine skiers to have a shot at the overall title.
Katie Conrath, who skis with both the Alpine and Nordic teams, thinks a state title is within reach for the girls.
"It's a little disappointing that our Alpine team isn't bigger," Conrath said. "We've got some very good skiers who will not be there. But our Nordic team is strong, and I think our Alpine skiers will help us hang in there."
Priska Sorenson and Conrath will ski both days. On Friday, Kathleen Lyon will join the team for the giant slalom, and on Saturday, Brittany Lamb will take part in the slalom.
The good news for the Sailors is that a larger Nordic squad should help its chances for a title. The Sailors have six boys and six girls taking part in the classic and freestyle events.
The boy's team is comprised of Marty Smith, Austin Ross, Mike Gleason, Paul Berry, Justin Krause and Paul Rose. The girls will be led by defending state champions Korie Steitz and Sarah MacCarthy. Laura Philip, Lisl Pearson, Conrath, and Jennifer Hooper also will be skiing for the team.
Arnis said he expected this week's events -- from the opening ceremonies Friday morning through Saturday's awards presentation -- to be top rate.
"We couldn't have done this without the support of the Booster Club or the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club," Arnis said.
Winter Sports Club Alpine director Tony Nunnikhoven said making the high school state championships was a top priority for the club and that everyone is excited that it is going to take place in Steamboat.
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