Winter Sports Club carries on holiday tradition

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— Ski coach Chris Puckett is hoping that ski racers from across the country will find some holiday cheer in Steamboat Springs this December during the annual Holiday Classic.

The FIS ski races will include two men's and two women's slaloms at Howelsen Hill. Two of the events will be held at night under the lights, the other two will be held during the day.

"These are the lowest level international races, but they are the most important when it comes to keeping young racers interested in the sport of ski racing," Puckett said.

Puckett, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team and an Olympian, has been a driving force behind the races since being hired as the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's Alpine director in 2004.

"I want to promote these races because this is Ski Town U.S.A.," Puckett said. "We have had Nordic combined World Cups, and we host a World Cup B. We've also hosted major freestyle events, but I just want to make sure that Alpine racing has a place."

In the past couple of years, Puckett has worked hard to grow the races in Steamboat Springs. He's encourages several local businesses to sponsor the races and provide prize money to the first-, second- and third-place racers in each event. There is also an award for the top male and female racer in each event.

Puckett said the prize money has been key to drawing top racers such as Jake Zamansky, Julia Littman, Drew Roberts and Paul McDonald to the annual International Skiing Federation sanctioned events. The races are important because they allow racers to earn the points they need to move to a higher national and international level of racing.

Last year, the races in Steamboat included eight starts in four days including two men's and two women's giant slalom races at Mount Werner, and two men's and two women's slaloms at Howelsen Hill.

"It was pretty tiring for the staff that was putting the races on," Puckett said.

This year, the racing schedule has been scaled back to include two men's slalom racers, and two women's slalom racers. Puckett said the giant slalom races, and super-G races will be held at different venues before and after the Steamboat slalom races.

Steamboat events will open with a women's slalom Dec. 15. The first run is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. The women will also race Dec. 16, with the first run beginning at 10 a.m.

That night, the men will take to the slalom course at 4:30 p.m. They will also race at 10 a.m. Dec. 17.

Male and female skiers will be competing for a $500 first-place prize. The second-place finisher will earn $300, and the third-place finisher will take home $200.

Puckett said the Holiday Classic is just one of three FIS-sanctioned Alpine races scheduled for Steamboat this winter. The Winter Sports Club will also host an FIS junior race Feb. 3 and 4 and four more Rocky Mountain Trophy Series races in March.

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