Our View: Don't miss a glimpse of Olympic skill

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One of the great privileges of living in Ski Town USA is taking advantage of the many opportunities to connect with our tradition of nurturing Winter Olympians. And it's an opportunity that all of our holiday guests can join in Friday as Steamboat hosts the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in freestyle skiing.

A dramatic freestyle aerials competition under the lights at historic Howelsen Hill that night will feature skiers twisting and flipping through the night air. The speed and agility of mogul skiers will be on display earlier in the day at Mount Werner.

Four 2006 Olympians, two men and two women, will be chosen on the spot from among a field that includes three reigning world champions, two defending World Cup champs and three reigning Olympic medalists. Could a skiing competition offer more drama than that?

Steamboat's Travis Mayer, the defending silver medalist in mogul skiing from 2002, will be in the hunt. And Steamboat aerialist Ryan St. Onge is one of the favorites in his event.

The mogul competition is 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the VooDoo ski run at the Steamboat Ski Area. Aerials are 6 to 8 p.m. downtown at Howelsen Hill.

The Salt Lake Games were renowned for the pop music concerts that followed every medal ceremony. The Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. will observe that tradition, hosting a free performance by Hootie and the Blowfish at the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena after the aerial competition. It starts at 8 p.m., within easy walking distance of the aerial competition.

Steamboat sent 14 athletes to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. And the total number of Winter Olympians from Steamboat, beginning with ski jumper John Steele in 1932, has risen to 56.

Residents of the Yampa Valley become involved in the Olympic movement through involvement in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. They begin volunteering as markers at Wednesday night ski jumping competitions (among many other events) and continue up to international ski races that take place downtown at Howelsen Hill and at Mount Werner. When the world gathered in Salt Lake City four years ago, Steamboat sent 40 people who served as event officials and course workers.

Not all of us will be able to visit Torino, Italy, in February. However, everyone in Steamboat can get a taste of the Olympic experience this week.

Begin with a visit to the Tread of Pioneers Museum at 800 Oak St. (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday). The displays of historic skis and uniforms used by former Steamboat Olympians will inspire you.

Then, make your way across the Ninth Street footbridge Friday night to Howelsen Hill and a date with our Olympic tradition.

You can watch the freestyle competition on TV the next day (NBC, 12:30 p.m. mountain time Saturday), and we hope you will. But that's no substitute for getting close to the excitement.

When America's best skiers join athletes from all over the world in February, you'll be able to say, "I saw them compete in Steamboat first."

It's an experience you'll always be glad you didn't pass up.

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