Photo by Joel Reichenberger
Michael Ward, front, and Erik Lynch, second, of the National Training Group, lead a pack of Steamboat Springs Nordic combined skiers on Wednesday. The U.S. Nordic combined Ski Team is leading an effort to raise money to support athletes like Ward and Lynch, who are near the top of the sport but not close enough to receive much support from the U.S. Ski Team.
How to help
To help out and contribute $25 (or more) to the National Nordic Foundation to help the Nordic combined competitors, visit http://ncgeneralfund.causevox.com
Steamboat Springs The list is seemingly endless.
There are coats and hats, gloves and base layers, skis — cross-country and jumping — and helmets, poles and goggles. There are coaches to be paid and trips to be paid for, those amounting to yet another seemingly endless line of expenses, from tickets to fuel, hotels to food.
It looks so simple on TV. Heroes from down the street gliding to glory in the Olympic Games, happy and smiling before it cuts to Bob Costas.
There’s little about becoming one of the world’s preeminent Nordic combined athletes that’s simple, however, and there’s little about it that’s cheap. It’s with that in mind that the Nordic combined community is in the midst of a huge fundraising drive, one it hopes can net as much as $250,000, one it hopes you can contribute just $25 to, and one it hopes can pave the way for the next generation of local Olympians.
“One of Steamboat’s mottos is ‘It takes a village to raise an Olympian,’” said Susana Field, who’s son Cliff is among a group of skiers who will most benefit from the fundraiser. “Now, there’s the danger there won’t be the funding for that to even be possible.”
The Field family has learned just how tough chasing that Olympic dream can be.
“We had money in savings,” Susana Field said Wednesday, considering what her family — Cliff and husband, John — have sacrificed to help Cliff, now 19, reach the edge of elite in Steamboat’s most famous sport.
“We were fortunate to have enough in savings to pay for Cliff’s increasing expenses, but he started traveling to Europe for the sport when he was a freshman in high school,” she continued. “He’s been making at least three trips a year. It’s been tough, and at this point, it’s approaching impossible.”
Cliff Field grew up in Steamboat and once dreamed of making the Olympics as a special jumper. His parents drew the line there.
“Special jumping got dumped from the U.S. Ski Team, and it doesn’t get any funding. We said ‘Forget about that. There’s no future,’” Susana Field said. “We couldn’t afford that, but we said if he wanted to pursue Nordic combined, where there’s a real team and real money, we’d back that 100 percent.”
So now, Field is one of the top Nordic combined athletes in the country, one of a handful of skiers on what’s called the National Training Group, which is based in Steamboat and is essentially the Ski Team’s minor league.
These are the guys whose faces are supposed to plaster banners in downtown Steamboat Springs in a decade. They’re also the guys many parents had hoped would be off the family ledger by this point and on to the U.S. Ski Team’s. But, facing steep budget cuts, that team is focusing on keeping only its top World Cup competitors and a few B-teamers afloat.
The National Training Group — some of whom might have been added to the now-tiny B team in more bountiful years — is left with little U.S. Team support.
“Last year, we paid anticipating the team picking up the tab this year,” said Susana Field, who’s family is still recovering from financing last season’s trips. “Now they can’t pick it up. This is the crisis point, right now.”
No easy task
They call it the “Drive for 25,” and the coaches with the U.S. Nordic combined ski team hope it’s the avenue to another generation of skiing stars.
They’re asking for $25 from anyone who can contribute to the National Nordic Foundation’s Nordic Combined Pillar Projects General Fund. The money will help with those expenses, and it will fund more trips to Europe for priceless experience training and competing in the sport’s heartland.
“That’s really important,” National Training Group skier and Steamboater Erik Lynch said. “Just having contact with the ski team and racing against those European guys is priceless.”
Lynch, Field and a half-dozen other members of the National Training Group skied Wednesday above Steamboat Springs, along Bruce’s Trail on Rabbit Ears Pass.
It seemed simple, heavy breathing, flushed cheeks and oozing sweat doing little to hide excitement glistening in the eyes as another season approaches.
But little is simple about competition at this level, and a great day gliding across fresh snow can’t change that.
“Having that extra funding will make it possible to do this crazy sport,” Steamboat skier Michael Ward said.
— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 871-4253 or email firstname.lastname@example.org