Saturday, October 29, 2005
Steamboat Springs If former Olympic skier Chris Puckett has his way, there will be hundreds of cheering fans lining the base of Howelsen Hill this December to watch a thrilling slalom race under the lights.
"This is a totally different format than we've had in the past," said Puckett, the Alpine director for Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
This year, the Winter Sports Club will take a fresh approach to a series of Rocky Mountain Trophy Series races that have been held in Steamboat Springs for years. The International Ski Federation-sanctioned events will take place Dec. 18 to 21, with giant slalom races during the day and slalom racing under the lights at Howelsen each night.
Puckett, who was a member of the U.S. Ski Team for 13 years and competed in the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in France before becoming a Winter Sports Club coach, thinks the night events will add a new sense of excitement and allow spectators who couldn't attend day events to come out and cheer for the next generation of Olympic and World Cup skiing stars.
"This is going to be an awesome setting for a ski race," Puckett said. "It's so much fun to race in front of a crowd, and it means a lot to the skiers who will be taking part in the races."
The men's giant slalom at Steamboat Ski Area will open the Rocky Mountain Trophy Series on Dec. 18. That night, the women's slalom will take center stage at Howelsen Hill in the heart of downtown Steamboat. Giant slalom races will begin at 9:30 a.m. each day, with a second run scheduled at 12:15 p.m. Slaloms will start at 4:30 p.m., with the second run scheduled at about 7 p.m.
"I'm going to make a plea to get the young kids to come out and watch the first run, at the least," Puckett said. "Having a big crowd is a huge part of ski racing, and I can't think of anything better than having tons of little kids out watching these skiers at Howelsen."
The races will continue Dec. 19 with the men's giant slalom and women's slalom races. The men and women will switch places Dec. 20 and Dec. 21, with women taking to the giant slalom course during the day and men racing the slalom at night.
"This is a high level of racing," Puc--kett said. "We will have the top college racers here for the races as well as some of the top younger racers."
Last year, U.S. Ski Team members such as Drew Roberts and Paul McDonald put on a thrilling show in the final slalom event of the week. The two racers tied on the first run and finished almost as close in the second run. McDonald edged the hometown favorite by less than a second to win the race.
It's that type of excitement Puckett will be counting on this year when the men's and women's slalom races move to nighttime. Puckett expects about 280 racers to come to Steamboat for the races, including most of the top college teams that want to race at Mount Werner and Howelsen Hill before this year's NCAA championships in March.