Steamboat Springs Parents and coaches, friends and family know it has to happen, and somewhere deep down, brothers Billy and Cody Winters know it, too. They’ll admit, begrudgingly at least, that they’ll have to make decisions.
On Saturday, as Billy Winters was racing in the finals of a NorAm Alpine snowboarding event in Steamboat Springs, he pulled off the near impossible: grabbing the attention of a skier standing on a slope in a resort town in the midst of a snowstorm.
“There goes two generations of Steamboat snowboarding,” the onlooker commented as Winters zoomed by, racing one of Steamboat’s great Alpine riders, Justin Reiter.
If Billy, 15, and Cody, 12, are to be front and center in the next wave of Steamboat snowboarding, they have to decide which avenue of snowboarding they want to pursue.
They know that, but they’d rather not do it just yet.
Considering the options
There are five kinds of competitive snowboarding, and Billy and Cody Winters love them all. There’s the half-pipe, where the more outgoing Cody thrives. There’s slope-style, which Billy spent Thursday practicing with his coach and team at Steamboat Ski Area. There’s Alpine racing, with slalom and giant slalom events in which Billy found success at the Race to the Cup in Steamboat last weekend. Finally, there’s snowboard cross, which Cody already is aware may prove to be the best choice.
For Billy, the time to choose was last summer. He’s old enough this year to compete in FIS events like the NorAm tour, which essentially is the path to the big circuits like the World Cup and the Olympic Games.
“Usually, athletes at his age have to specialize in one, either racing or freestyle,” Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club junior snowboard coach Tori Koski said. “But he’s incredibly talented at both — both him and his brother are.”
Their father, Dave Winters, in the summer was eager to see Billy choose a path, afraid of eventual mediocrity in everything rather than elite in one. The family sat down with the Winter Sports Club’s snowboard staff, however, and there wasn’t a decision to be reached.
Billy stood strong, and his coaches agreed.
“I wanted him to pick, but they all said ‘no,’” Dave said. “They said, ‘At least one more year.’
“When I was pushing Billy to make up his mind, Cody was just saying, ‘I’m so glad I don’t have to choose yet.’”
Cody earned top-10 finishes in all five disciplines a year ago at the USASA Snowboarding Nationals, earning him an overall national championship.
Strong all around
Jon Casson is the Winter Sports Club’s snowboard director and snowboard cross coach. He admitted to wanting the brothers in his program but also insisted there’s nothing wrong with waiting.
“A really good snowboarder is a really good snowboarder,” he said.
In that sense, some of this is Dave’s fault. He offers worlds of credit to the coaches, but he helped create two excellent snowboarders.
He moved to Steamboat Springs in 1974 and had a background in surfing. He started as a skier — his wife and Billy and Cody’s mother, Sue, also is an essential part of the equation, and she still skis — but quickly fell in love with snowboarding. He was on the first chair in 1987 on the first day Steamboat Ski Area allowed snowboards (they weren’t allowed on the gondola at the time), and he rarely has gone back since, saying on the best days, snowboarding still reminds him of his own upbringing.
“Sometimes, I still get that feeling, ‘Oh wow, this is so much like surfing. This is great,’” he said.
He and Sue started their sons on skis when they were 3 years old, but as soon as Billy and Cody had the option, they went to snowboards. Dave always has loved the Alpine snowboarding setup, and when he wasn’t able to find the stiff hard-shell boots in children's sizes, he tinkered with ski boots to make those work.
Dave still loves to carve the mountain on an Alpine board, and he and his sons make an annual trip to Aspen for a festival dedicated to just that kind of riding.
That’s helped make them great snowboarders: fast on race days and creative and competent in freestyle competitions.
Narrowing it down
No one will confirm as much, but read the tea leaves and the answer to the Winters’ riddle may be in there.
There certainly was plenty of evidence in Billy’s success at the Race to the Cup event. He’s raced that series four times now, twice in Winter Park and twice in Steamboat. He improved every time, from 56th to 47th to 25th and, finally, despite his initial refusal to believe, 15th place and into the finals. He’s the youngest rider this year to make the finals in a Race to the Cup event.
His competition there, Reiter, won handily en route to a sweep of the two weekend races, but the fact Winters was there at all dropped jaws.
“He was born when I was learning to drive, and he did awesome,” Reiter said. “For him to make finals with a field this good really speaks to his talent.”
That he got to race Reiter dropped Billy’s jaw.
“He’s someone I really look up to a lot, and I was really excited,” Billy said. “It was really fun to try and catch up to him.”
None of that success completely changed anyone’s mind, however. If one of the boys is to snowboard on World Cups and someday in the Olympics, there’s no consensus in which event it will be.
“For freestyle, I like the nerves. Then you do your trick, you stomp it and you’re so stoked,” Cody said.
“That’s how you feel after finishing a good race, too,” Billy added. “I also like learning new tricks, the confidence when you finally get it.”
Maybe it doesn’t really matter. The Winters brothers seem to know that, too, deep down.
Dig and they’ll admit to harboring guarded dreams about the Olympics, about World Cups and gold medals. But ask, “Where do you want to go in snowboarding?” and they offer answers that say none of that:
“I want to ride when I’m super old,” Cody said.
“I just want to have as much fun as I can snowboarding,” Billy said, chiming in to sum it all up.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com