A legacy of success: Reflecting on the history of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club

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— Historian Sureva Towler set out in the mid-1980s to tell the story of one of Steamboat Springs’ most cherished institutions.

It took four years, but when she finished, Towler had published “The History of Skiing in Steamboat Springs,” and she created a reference where people could access our town’s rich and long skiing history in one place.

A legacy of success: Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club

The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club is about a lot more than just producing Olympic-caliber athletes that bring home medals. It’s the story of the more than 20,000 members who have put on the club’s jacket and represented our town around the world for the past 100 years.

“There were no records, no place where the (Steamboat Springs) Winter Sports Club’s history was written down, no place where we kept track of all the Winter Carnivals,” Towler said. “We were losing the old-timers who knew this stuff and we were losing history.”

The 189-page book documented not only the history of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club but also the history of skiing as it unfolded in our valley from before Carl Howelsen to the athletes who were making headlines around the world in the late 1980s.

These days, it’s hard to imagine that when the Winter Sports Club was started 100 years ago, its main mission was to help plan and organize the Winter Carnival.

The Winter Sports Club still is the driving force behind the February celebration, but throughout the years, the mission has shifted and grown.

According to Towler’s book, the Winter Sports Club was the first club in the Rocky Mountains to affiliate with the National Ski Association, and it was the only club to offer advanced training in Nordic, Alpine and freestyle. It also was the first club to make skiing as an accredited part of a public school system, and it was the first club in Colorado to hire a full-time paid ski coach, among other things.

Early on, the Winter Sports Club shifted its attention from simply planning the annual Winter Carnival to providing an opportunity for children in our community to become successful individuals and to achieve their personal goals through the participation in winter sports.

Since those changes, the club’s history is written in the results of major national championships in Nordic combined and ski jumping; it’s written in the results from Alpine, freestyle and Nordic combined World Cups that took place here and around the world; and it’s been written by the 97 athletes who have made more than 135 appearances at the Winter Olympic Games.

It also has been written by the six who have brought home Olympic medals.

While the club has helped guide thousands of young Steamboat athletes to successful outcomes, there are a few that stand out in the crowd.

There was Nelson Carmichael, who became the first athlete from the Winter Sports Club to win an Olympic medal when the moguls skier earned bronze at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France.

There was Shannon Dunn, who added to the medal count six years later when she won the bronze medal in the women’s half-pipe at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan.

There was Travis Mayer, who upped the count with his silver medal in men’s moguls at the Salt Lake City Games

Then there are the stars of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The Nordic combined team dominated that year’s Olympics with Steamboat’s Johnny Spillane leading the way by winning silver medals in both individual Nordic combined events and the team competition.

His Steamboat Springs teammate Todd Lodwick along with Bill Demong (who spent several years living and training here) also were on the silver medal-winning team.

Demong also earned a gold medal in the large hill individual event.

But while it would be easy to measure the success of the Winter Sports Club in terms of medals, that would be wrong.

“Skiing is the heartbeat of the community,” Sureva said.

In the past 100 years, the Winter Sports Club estimates that 22,000 athletes have passed through its programs. Some of the skiers have gone on to the World Cup and Olympics while others have won NCAA championships.

But many more have gone on to lives off the slopes and maintained a lifelong love of the sport of skiing.

Along the way, the Winter Sports Club has fulfilled its mission to “create, develop, educate and interest the community in the sport of skiing, ski jumping and all other winter sports.”

There is no question that the Winter Sports Club has grown and transformed with the community of Steamboat Springs.

Today, it still is the oldest ski club west of the Mississippi, and it has shaped the lives of people in Steamboat Springs for 100 years.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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