Team trials bring Olympic excitement to 'Boat

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In 2002, Travis Mayer thrilled the hometown crowd by winning a Gold Cup competition in Steamboat Springs and earning an automatic spot on the U.S. Olympic mogul team.

The skier, who was a discretionary pick for the World Cup at the start of the season, went on to compete in his first Olympics in Salt Lake City and made the most of it by winning the silver medal.

He also added another chapter to Steamboat's rich freestyle skiing heritage, which includes the likes of Olympic bronze medalist Nelson Carmichael, four-time Olympian Ann Battelle and three-time Olympian Kris "Fuzz" Fedderson.

This December, the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association will be hoping for a similar turn of events when they invite the next generation of hopefuls to Steamboat for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials on Dec. 30 and 31.

"The Steamboat Springs community has a strong skiing spirit and established Olympic heritage. To bring the U.S. Olympic Team Trials here is exciting for us and our athletes," said Bill Marolt, USSA president and CEO. "It allows us to give back to a community that has supported the team for so long and to provide some exciting ski competition for athletes vying for the 2006 Olympic Team."

The U.S. Olympic Team trials are essentially a wild-card opportunity for athletes to make the Olympic team. The top male and female skiers from Friday's aerial event and Saturday's mogul competition will be rewarded with an invitation to be a part of the American team in Torino, Italy.

The 10 remaining spots will be filled based on results from World Cup competitions. The U.S. Olympic freestyle team will be named on Jan. 25.

"Freestyle is clearly one of the hottest sports in all of skiing, consistently generating some of the highest television viewership ratings," said Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing and sales for Steamboat. "Freestyle skiing always has been and remains a huge part of Steamboat's claim to Ski Town USA, and we are excited to be hosting the U.S. Olympic Team Trials."

The events in Steamboat will open with a high-flying aerial competition Friday evening under the lights at Howelsen Hill.

Rick DeVos, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, said the club is excited to be a part of the event and about the event's downtown location.

"The last time we held a nighttime aerial competition downtown, we had thousands of spectators," DeVos said. "It should be a fun and exciting atmosphere."

A temporary freestyle jump will be built on the face of Howelsen using man-made snow.

On Saturday, the events will move back to the Park Smalley Freestyle complex on the mountain for the mogul event.

In 2002, a similar event helped Mayer secure his first Olympic berth after he won the Gold Cup mogul event, which was held on Voo Doo ski trail.

Winter Sports Club coach Erik Skinner is hoping many of his athletes will have a chance to compete in the event. But even if they don't, Skinner said, the competition will present a great learning opportunity.

"Our athletes can watch these top-level skiers prepare and compete," he said. "They will see how early they show up to start preparing, and they can watch what they do and how they compete."

NBC Sports will televise the events in a 90-minute show, including aerials and same-day coverage of moguls, which is scheduled to air on New Year's Eve at noon.

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