Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Joel here.
Steamboat Springs I guess my answer is Bryan Fletcher.
I was asked a few weeks ago to help pick the best local sports story of 2012, and I balked like a Kansan going off a ski jump (which perhaps was my personal sports highlight of 2011, for what it's worth). I didn’t respond to the email because I couldn’t make up my mind.
Best sports story of 2012? Did we have one of those?
None of the obvious highlights were there, at least as far as my year of coverage was concerned. None of the local high school basketball teams put together deep playoff runs. One wrestler made the state championship finals, and although his match was fantastic to watch, he lost.
The spring prep sports season was equally littered with good-but-not-quite-great stories. The Steamboat Springs High School lacrosse team won its first playoff game and that squad was one of our “Routt County high school teams of the year,” but noting one playoff win as 2012’s best seems a bit, well, overblown.
This fall was more of the same on the high school level: good, and often extremely entertaining, but not quite great. The Steamboat Springs High School football team snapped a 22-game losing streak, then went on to finish with four wins, a great turnaround for the program. The Hayden football team made the playoffs in its first year of 8-man football. The Tigers lost in another great game in the first round of the playoffs, however.
Is that what I’m left with? A great game in which our local team lost serving as the highlight of the year?
Of course, Steamboat Springs and Routt County are about far more than high school sports. Surely outside the narrow confines of that arena there’s something obvious to highlight, right?
A February storm brought 27 inches of powder in one 24-hour span to Steamboat Springs, which made for a record powder day at the Steamboat Ski Area. I remember it well. Several cousins I don’t see nearly often enough were in town.
We had skied the day before and we hit Strawberry Park Hot Springs that night, basking in the steamy, snowy delight. We did brunch the morning of the big snow, however, before they fought their way up Rabbit Ears Pass to head home.
As I ushered them out of town, I missed the best powder day ever.
Several days later I caught a gondola with Steamboat Springs and Olympic legend Billy Kidd, and I asked him about that 27-inch day. He started on a roundabout story — poke Kidd with a ski pole and a story will pop out — about how he’d been chatting with his grandchild on the 27-inch morning about what’s really important in life.
A story about grandfatherly advice? Whew! Family, I was sure, was the answer. I felt relieved, and certainly less embarrassed than I had been about missing that epic powder day — at least until Kidd finished his life lesson.
“What’s important,” he continued, “is skiing when you have 27 inches of powder.”
That certainly could be Steamboat’s 2012 highlight, but sadly it’s not mine.
The USA Pro Challenge — which wrapped Steamboat Springs in cycling euphoria in the summer of 2011 and may do so again in 2013 — skipped Steamboat in 2012, so that’s out. We did get the Run, Rabbit Run 100-mile ultra marathon, which brought some of the world’s best long-distance specialists to town. The event made for some really great stories. That’s certainly on the short list.
The Steamboat Stinger mountain bike race was again immensely popular and the inaugural Stinger Marathon was won by none other than Lance Armstrong.
Loving Lance is so 2011, however.
I’m going with Bryan Fletcher, and that’s certainly no consolation prize. Fletcher won what amounts to the Super Bowl of World Cup Nordic combined ski racing in March, winning in Oslo, Norway, at the jumps at Holmenkollen.
Yes, an event that took place thousands of miles away and while most of the town was asleep may have been Steamboat’s sports highlight of the year. It captures several important angles.
Fletcher is born and raised Steamboat Springs, and while a World Cup win may not mean much in New York or Los Angeles, it means a lot in Ski Town USA.
It was a thrill to report, even from across an ocean, and for those who were tuned in, it was a thrill to follow, Fletcher edging out several racers in a lunge for the finish line.
So, make me choose one story, and I’ll tell you that was the best, my favorite: Steamboat’s native son winning on a world stage Steamboat is uniquely able to appreciate.
As much as anything, though, sifting through a year of highlights underscores the fact that it's not any one day or performance, any one person or team that make Steamboat Springs a wonderful place to take in sports. It’s around us literally every day, on our mountain bike trails and Nordic skiing courses, riding up the gondola and casting lines in the Yampa River. It can rain and snow, freeze and bake, but there’s not much that can make for a bad sports day in Steamboat Springs.