Steamboat Springs The annual Race to the Cup race in Steamboat Springs is normally a highlight for snowboarder Darren Ratcliffe.
"It's not just another snowboard race," Ratcliffe said. "The town comes out and supports the riders, and it's so exciting to race under the lights at Howelsen Hill."
Ratcliffe plans to be in the field Friday night, when snowboarders from across the country step into the bright lights illuminating the slopes at Howelsen. Top riders will be looking for a World Cup nod, and younger riders will be hoping to pick up the experience they need to be competitive in the future.
"This is where riders learn how to get on the podium," said Thedo Remmelink, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's Alpine snowboarding director. "I can't think of a single World Cup racer who hasn't started at this level. This is where riders learn what it takes to win an event and where they learn to be successful on the World Cup."
This year's Race to the Cup, a part of the North American Cup Series, begins at 3 p.m. Friday with qualifying for the parallel slalom race. The main event starts at 6 p.m., with the top 16 riders going head to head in a parallel slalom format. Each pair will have two runs, and the winner will advance to face another qualifier. The loser is done.
Saturday, the riders return for the parallel giant slalom, an Olympic event. The day starts at noon with qualifying and the top 16 riders advance to the finals, which are scheduled to start between 2 and 3 p.m.
The Race to the Cup features two stops each season and awards a spot for several North American World Cup events. In Steamboat this weekend, the men and women with the best two finishes earn a chance to compete in a World Cup stop Feb. 26 in Sunday River, Maine, and possibly two races in Canada and another in Spain later this season.
"It's big," Steamboat's Kristin d'Eon said. D'Eon is coming off a NorAm win at Mt. Norquay in Banff, Alberta. He edged teammate Mike Trapp in the race.
"I seem like the guy to beat right now," d'Eon said.
The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club rider, who is from Nova Scotia, is hoping to stay hot and earn a shot at the World Cup.
"Home-hill advantage is the best part of racing at Howelsen," d'Eon said. "This is a great opportunity."
In the past, Race to the Cup events normally draw top riders for the U.S. and Canadian teams. This year, most riders still are competing on the World Cup and will not be in town.
Remmelink says the field in Steamboat Springs this weekend will be very competitive and said several riders should fill the World Cup in years to come.
"You have to prepare the same mentally for a NorAm and a World Cup," Trapp said. "There's just a lot more people at a World Cup and a lot more distractions."
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