John F. Russell: New jumps are key to tradition

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If you haven't seen Steam--boat Springs' newest landmark, you're the perfect candidate to be an official in the NFL, NBA or NHL.

The new K-68 jump at Howelsen Hill is worthy of more attention than Carmen Electra at a frat party.

It's something the town of Steamboat should be proud of, and there is little doubt that it will forge the landscape of this mountain town for years to come.

For many people in Steamboat, the sight of a state-of-the art, year-round ski jump at Howelsen Hill is not only beautiful, but it also brings tears to the eyes.

This winter, the concrete, plastic and porcelain will go unnoticed by most of us. For years, Howelsen's three main jumps have been a fixture in downtown. It seems as if ski jumping always has been part of winter here.

But in a few weeks, ski jumping in Steamboat will undergo one of the biggest changes since the introduction of the V-style jumping technique. It's the type of change that would have brought a smile to the face of jumping pioneer Carl Howelsen, who introduced the sport to the Yampa Valley during a time when trains, not planes, brought starry-eyed tourists to Steamboat.

If everything goes as planned during the next couple of weeks, a lucky ski jumper will make a historic flight off the K-68 jump before this year's first snowflake falls in the Yampa Valley.

Forget the $2.45 million price tag, the construction challenges and the two years of waiting for the project to take shape. This fall, Steamboat will enter a new chapter in its long and storied Nordic tradition.

Thanks to the hard work of Colorado Ski Heritage Project, the men who completed the construction and several key grants, ski jumping will become a part of summer in Steamboat for the first time.

It also will mark the first time athletes can stay home when temperatures start to climb during spring.

Supporters of the jump project hope it will make the ski-jumping and Nordic-combined programs here better than they already are.

I'm sure U.S. Ski Team officials hope the jump will produce more athletes such as Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane, Clint Jones and Tommy Schwall. Only time will tell whether that is the case.

But the one thing that is certain is that ski jumpers in Steamboat will be given a unique opportunity to train and grow as athletes.

Next summer, ski jumpers from across the country will come to Steamboat to compete, and local athletes will be able to skip time-consuming and expensive trips to places such as Park City, Utah, and Lake Placid, N.Y.

So if you haven't noticed Steamboat's newest landmark, I encourage you to head downtown and steal a glance up Howelsen Hill.

Some might see a new ski jump, but I see why this still is Ski Town USA.

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