Photo by Joel Reichenberger
Wendy Smith Mikelsons leads a class of Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athletes on Thursday in a dance class at the Depot Art Center in Steamboat Springs. The athletes have been working this fall on their conditioning, running, lifting weights and doing pushups to prepare for the coming season. Dance offers a different way to prepare, helping refine coordination, build endurance and strength and exercise core muscles.
Steamboat Springs Cold wind whipped outside the door, carrying the season’s first traces of snow into the Yampa Valley. Nevertheless, skiing seemed a million miles away from inside the Depot Art Center in downtown Steamboat Springs.
There were no winter coats, no fluffy hats and stuttering hip-hop blared from the radio, starting and stopping, rewinding and playing over again — not exactly prime riding music.
Still, participants in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s fall dance program, back this year for a second time, didn’t hesitate or pause or wait for an adult to explain the long-term benefits.
They danced through the afternoon, stomping out moves, swaying their hips and spinning on the floor, and it was all going to help their ski season.
“It helps a lot,” J3 Alpine skier Jessica Sandvik said.
“Knowing where all your body parts are when you’re skiing,” friend and fellow J3 skier Meg Anderson said. “And this is a fun way to train.”
That time of year
With the first dusting of white stuff atop Mount Werner and the opening of the first Colorado ski resort — Wolf Mountain flipped the switch on its lifts Saturday — skiers and snowboarders in Steamboat officially are beginning to get anxious and antsy.
Athletes with the Winter Sports Club and other skiers already are well into their season preparations.
Of course, many of those athletes never truly stopped with the club’s dryland training regimen carrying from the spring through the summer. Training has been shifted to a higher gear now, however. That has meant lunges on the rodeo grounds stairs, pushups in the grass and curls in the weight room.
“I’ve been biking and playing sports,” said Max Pinto, a J5 Alpine skier. “We’ve done a lot of running and weightlifting. I don’t like that during the time, but it helps in the end.
“This is definitely more fun.”
For a few athletes this fall — Alpine skiers like Meg and Jessica as well as snowboarders, Nordic skiers and freestyle skiers — dancing has provided a nice change.
The club first experimented with a shoulder season dance program last year, and it returned this year with an emphasis on hip-hop.
“A friend did it last year, and she talked about it nonstop,” said Meg, a Winter Sports Club dance class first-timer. “So we decided to try. It was a lot of fun.”
Making it work
Teacher Wendy Smith Mikelsons is a skier and has been since moving to Steamboat Springs in the 1980s. In the winter, she’s wherever powder can be found at the ski area or maybe on Rabbit Ears or Buffalo Pass if she’s tackling backcountry terrain.
On Thursday while teaching the hip-hop dance class, she worked in what she knew, mixing advice on how to pop a palm in a dance move with tips on how a certain step could relate to the mountain.
“A lot of what happens in a dance class can translate into what’s happening on skis,” said Smith Mikelsons, who runs Children’s Danceworks in the city. “I can find a lot of things, even in the warm-ups. If their foot is off kilter, you think about that in skis and your ski is going the wrong way. They’re growing, and they’re developing, and their coordination is still coming. This helps their balance, alignment and coordination.”
Fast moves with dances and long afternoons hammering out the details can build endurance and strength, especially in the core. Even choreography can prove important; a sharp mind is as important flying down an icy slope as any physical gift.
“When you’re racing at Mach 1, you have to be able to make a decision in a split second,” Smith Mikelsons said. “You can really see that in dance with the choreography. I’m throwing a lot of different things at them, and it can help them remember.”
Smith Mikelsons said she’s hopeful the program, which is free to club members thanks in part to a spring fundraiser, can gain momentum and return next year as a regular part of preseason preparations for Steamboat’s aspiring winter athletes.
Thursday was a good day for skiers like Meg, Jessica and Max. They rushed to the windows of the classrooms when rain drops briefly turned to snowflakes in town.
And the dancing was pretty sweet, too, they said.
“It’s great,” Max said. “It will definitely help with winter for flexibility and strength.”