Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club skier Ali Pougiales skis through the gates during her first run at the Surefoot Colorado Ski Cup women’s giant slalom on the Sitz/See Me course at Steamboat Ski Area in 2009.

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Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club skier Ali Pougiales skis through the gates during her first run at the Surefoot Colorado Ski Cup women’s giant slalom on the Sitz/See Me course at Steamboat Ski Area in 2009.

Hang out with Steamboat’s future Olympians

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Kane Park, of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club freestyle program, skis in a Rocky Mountain Division Development competition at Howelsen Hill in 2009.

Snow tubing at Howelsen Hill

Visitors can easily join in Winter Carnival festivities nightly at Howelsen Hill’s snow tubing facility. It’s just across the Fifth Street Bridge over the Yampa River in downtown Steamboat. Call 819-8010 to reserve a tubing spot. You won’t regret it!

— If you’re new to winter sports, or if you’ve already fully embraced middle age, there’s probably no chance you’ll qualify for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. British Columbia. However, there’s no reason you can’t mingle with future Olympians at historic Howelsen Hill during this year’s Winter Carnival in Steamboat Springs. You might even pick up some pointers.

The future Olympians will be ski racing and ski jumping, snowboarding and launching aerial maneuvers in the moguls. And you’ll be snow tubing right next to the World Cup ski jumps at the oldest ski area west of the Mississippi.

“Any day from 4 to 6 p.m. at Howelsen Hill, you see so many kids participating in so many outdoor adventures,” said Sarah Floyd, athletics director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. The club is the nonprofit competitive skiing and snowboarding program that hosts Winter Carnival. Youngsters in the program dream of someday competing for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard teams — and they often realize those goals.

The Winter Sports Club has helped 71 athletes make 117 appearances in the Winter Olympics. Most of them grew up in Steamboat; others came here for several seasons to refine their talents.

Now, Floyd said, the new snow tubing facility is exposing many more Steamboat visitors to the Winter Sports Club’s up-and-coming athletes.

“It has been a fun offshoot of the tubing that we hadn’t expected,” she said. “People from all over the world are coming to Howelsen Hill to enjoy the tubing, and they’re right next to the Alpine slalom run and the ski jump where athletes are training for the Junior Olympic qualifying races in the Rocky Mountain Division. It has been great exposure for the club.”

The Winter Sports Club hires an elite coaching staff made up of numerous former Olympic and World Cup athletes and uses the Howelsen Hill facilities to introduce youngsters to competition in Alpine, Nordic, freestyle, snowboarding, biathlon and telemark skiing programs. This season, 1,120 children and teens are taking part in the club.

The tradition goes back to 1913, when Carl Howelsen showed locals how to use skis for more than mere transportation during the long Yampa Valley winters. Howelsen built the first ski jumps in town and planted the seeds of the Winter Sports Club when he organized the first Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival in 1914. Today, proceeds from the Winter Carnival benefit the club.

For a long time, the local populace was crazy for ski jumping — there are historical accounts of local boys building ski jumps off the roofs of the sandstone and brick buildings that line the town’s main street. They would land on ramps of snow in the alleys behind Lincoln Avenue.

Despite the club’s proud Olympic heritage, Floyd said it would be a disservice to portray the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club as an organization with the sole mission of producing Olympic skiers and snowboarders. For most of its athletes, the benefits include acquiring lifetime skills, an unshakable work ethic and the self-reliance that comes from traveling the nation and world to compete.

The club is very careful about hiring coaches who are qualified to act as positive role models for children, she said.

People interested in the nonprofit club are invited to stop by its Howelsen Hill offices or call 970-879-0695 for more information. The club’s e-mail address is sswsc@sswsc.org, and the mailing address is SSWSC, P.O. Box 774487, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477.

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