Joel Reichenberger: Remembering Shannon Dunn's snowboard success

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Joel Reichenberger

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.

One doesn’t have to stand in Steamboat Springs for long to learn the town has fostered more than its fair share of Olympians.

Steamboat claims nearly 80 of them, and many still live large in local lore.

Others, meanwhile, barely graced our town, spending only a few months here, or simply hiring a coach that worked for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

Shannon Dunn wasn’t one of those people. She moved here with her family when she was young and graduated from Steamboat Springs High School. She’s one of Steamboat’s great winter sports champions, but in writing a deadline article on Saturday night about young Steamboat snowboarder Arielle Gold’s third-place performance in the women’s super-pipe finals at this year’s X Games, I made a crucial mistake.

I wrote that Gold had scored a Steamboat first with her X Games super-pipe podium.

That wasn’t true. Dunn, in fact, earned that honor in 1997, when she won the very first Winter X Games half-pipe competition.

She repeated that accomplishment in 2001, also winning silver in the event in 1999 and silver in slopestyle in 2001.

Oh yeah, and she won a bronze medal at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan.

Not only was she a great Steamboat champ, she’s one of the revolutionary women of snowboarding.

Oops.

It was the snowboarding equivalent of writing that George Bush was the first president named George.

I flushed with embarrassment when her father, Jerry Dunn, sent me the most polite “you forgot my daughter” email I’ve ever received (and believe me, I have a stack to chose from). He offered the worthy advice that in a town with Steamboat’s winter sports credentials, it’s probably never a good idea to claim anything is a “first” without awfully solid proof.

Because Dunn won the very first Winter X Games, such a proclamation is indeed appropriate.

Once I got over my mistake, I started to dig into what I had missed.

I didn’t know about Dunn’s accomplishments simply because I wasn’t here when she was an active competitor. That’s not much of an excuse, but it did make me wonder about both how we as a people remember and how we as a newspaper document.

Our digital archives at the newspaper peter out in about 2001, just when Dunn was finishing off her illustrious career, so our stories on most of her triumphs can’t be accessed that way.

She also didn’t continue to live in town, so there are no recent pictures of her on powder days, no comments from her as a snowboard coach and no big features about her reflecting on what once was.

The art of archiving newspapers isn’t perfect, either, and even when I pulled out the paper’s hefty bound editions from those days, information was still scarce. The people at the paper with the institutional knowledge to have avoided my mistake — local information czar Tom Ross and longtime sports reporter and photographer extraordinaire John Russell — swear there was a special section published documenting Dunn’s Olympic medal, but apparently that didn’t make the archives cut and I was left with two small articles that couldn't combine to match the information in Dunn's Wikipedia entry.

Now, of course, Wikipedia is updated before a snowboarder takes off his or her helmet. The paper’s coverage of any event is likely to include several high-res photographs and maybe a video and it's available with a few keystrokes, as hopefully it will be forever.

Something else occurred to me in my archives dive. There were plenty of names in those papers that I recognized. Johnny Spillane, for example, looked to be about 10 years old in one photo, even though he was competing in his second Olympic Games at the time.

Many other things — coaches, athletes, people, events, restaurants and businesses — I had never heard of. They weren’t a part of “my” Steamboat Springs, and for all I know, they never existed. It’s ridiculous to say a town’s history starts whenever each of us first arrived, but it’s also a challenge to picture it any other way.

Shannon Dunn now goes by Shannon Dunn-Downing and she lives in California with her husband and their two children. She’s 40 and still active in the snowboarding world, and thanks to her tremendous and pioneering abilities in the pipe, she’s very much still a part of Steamboat Springs history.

Thanks to one mistake, she’s now a part of my history, as well.

It was a history-making kind of week for Steamboat Springs snowboarding, with World Championships and Arielle Gold's podium finish. Here's to hoping we don't forget any time soon.

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