John Russell's sports column appears Tuesdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs There is an unmistakable feeling of excitement that fills the air in Steamboat Springs this time of year.
It has nothing to do with the holidays, despite Christmas morning being just around the corner. No, this excitement was ignited months ago by the first chills of winter, and it can be found growing in the shadows of Howelsen Hill every year from November through April. It's a feeling deep in the heart of the athletes of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, and it's almost impossible to contain.
Just look over at the glowing lights of Howelsen Hill on almost any weekday night and you can feel the anticipation that comes from hundreds of children chasing their own Olympic dreams.
It’s the fiber of our community and the fuel that creates Olympic champions. It’s the kind of sight that makes us all want to live in this mountain town — even if you don’t have a child on the hill.
“We have about 200 athletes on the hill between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. the past few nights,” said Rick DeVos, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. “This is a great time of year at Howelsen Hill. Everywhere you look, there are smiles and happy athletes ready for a new season.”
DeVos said about 500 of the club’s more than 1,000 athletes have been training at Howelsen Hill since Thanksgiving week. The younger programs will start in the next few weeks.
Thanks to snowmaking crews, the athletes have workable early season conditions, which DeVos says will be the key to success in regional, national and international competition this season.
Getting back on the snow is so important to the Winter Sports Club that staff rolls up its own sleeves the first few weeks to make sure athletes can train for key early season competitions.
“I’ve added lift operator to my list of responsibilities this year,” DeVos said. “The city doesn’t have the budget to run Howelsen this early, and we understand that, so we’ve stepped in to make sure that our athletes can get back on the hill.”
DeVos said it’s important to help the members of the Winter Sports Club chase the goals athletes have held since the organization was founded.
But the Winter Sports Club is about a lot more than national titles and Olympic medals. It's about teaching the young athletes in Steamboat Springs what skiing and snowboarding mean to our community, what it’s like to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves and allowing them to shoot for their dreams.
“There is a sense of full-blown excitement at the club this time of year,” DeVos said.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com