With construction of a K-68 jump at Howelsen Hill complete, the hope is that local Nordic athletes can spend more time training on the plastic hills and less time traveling.
Todd Wilson, Nordic director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, said the netting that holds the snow to the surface of the jump is being removed this week. By the first week of June, he expects jumpers to be taking flight from the plastic-covered jump.
The first scheduled jumping event of the summer is a training camp that will attract athletes from Park City, Utah. Wilson said Steamboat athletes also will have a chance to jump during the camp.
Later this summer, the U.S. Nordic Combined B team is expected to come to town for several days of jump training.
"The bulk of our programs begin after school gets out for the summer," Wilson said. "The Park City jumpers are coming over here because they want their guys to start out the season on a small jump, and the (K-68) jump we have here is better than the one they have."
Wilson said the new jump will lead to changes at the Winter Sports Club this summer, but they may not be as drastic as people would think.
"We've been running summer Nordic programs in Steamboat for years," Wilson said. "We will continue to do dry-land training and conditioning, but now, our athletes will not have to travel to Park City to get time on the jumps."
In past years, the summer Nordic program included conditioning during the week and a couple of trips each month to Park City. Now, Winter Sports Club athletes won't have to hop in the car for the seven-hour trip to Utah.
The Winter Sports Club runs seven Nordic programs during the summer. There are age class, ability and ability-plus programs for Nordic combined athletes. The cross-country program offers development, age class, ability and biathlon.
"It's still too early to tell how much the new jump is going to impact those programs," Wilson said. "But I am expecting them to grow."
That growth will mean that Wilson and the coach he hires to replace Chris Gilbertson will have to put in a few extra hours this summer.
Wilson said that if the numbers grow more than expected, staffing may need to increase. But for now, there are no plans to add coaches.
The Nordic staff also will be responsible for maintenance projects.
"The Winter Sports Club will have most of the responsibility for running the jump," said Jeff Nelson, the city of Steamboat Springs' ski area and rodeo grounds facility maintenance supervisor. "They will run the programs and schedule the use of the facility."
Rick DeVos, executive director of the Winter Sports Club, said the cost to run the facility will be covered by the fees athletes pay to take part in the programs and from the fees teams from across the country pay to hold training camps in Steamboat.
Although the absence of a lift to take skiers to the top of the hill will cut costs, it has left Wilson struggling with ways to transport athletes from the base of the jump to the top during training sessions. He said the cost to pay employees and electricity to run the Poma lift is prohibitive. For now, athletes will have to hike to the top. Training sessions will be scheduled in the morning, when the weather is cooler.
The Winter Sports Club also is considering purchasing a four-wheel drive vehicle that could be used to get the athletes to the top of the hill.
"In an ideal world, I would love to see a lift access the top of the jump," Wilson said. "Athletes are looking to get as many jumps as possible in a
1 1/2- to 2-hour period. Once you get past that level, the physical demands reduce the effectiveness of training. There would probably be more teams interested in coming here if it wasn't such a slow process to get from the bottom to the top."
But Wilson said his top priority was getting a plastic covered jump in Steamboat, and he thinks the other details will be worked out.
"We are going to take it slow this summer," Wilson said. "We want to learn what works and what doesn't. We want to make this the best place in the country to train."