Steamboat Springs Dennis Worcester set out for Howelsen Hill on Thursday morning with his wife, Kim, and two grown children, Chris and Tammy, intent on seeing ski jumping.
It was something he’d seen on TV, he explained, but living in Miramar, Florida, a town tucked near the coast and between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, he’d never seen it in person.
- Friday, July 4, 2014, 11 a.m.
- Howelsen Hill, 845 Howelsen Parkway, Steamboat Springs
When the foursome arrived at Howelsen, Kim waited on a hay bale at the bottom of the hill as Dennis, Chris and Tammy headed up the hill for a closer look.
Dennis was the only one who made it to the top, however, and he stood watching as skier after skier flew by on the plastic runners of the HS75 ski jump, nearly four dozen athletes partaking in the opening stage of the Ski Jumping Extravaganza.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Dennis said, trying to capture the action on his cellphone. “I can’t believe they do this on plastic.”
Summer ski jumping tends to be a jaw dropper for visitors, and it’s pretty cool for locals. On Thursday, dozens of fans gathered at the bottom of the jumps for the first stage in a weekend full of jumping excitement.
“It’s really sweet to see people get stoked on it,” said Taylor Fletcher, a Steamboat Springs native and two-time Olympian as well as the most experienced athlete competing this weekend.
“Every time we get a new person hooked on this sport, even if they’re just a spectator, that’s another person who knows about it, another face in the crowd,” he said. “It’s something we strive for.”
That’s become all the more important in recent months. The U.S. Nordic combined team was largely cutfrom the U.S. Ski Team’s budget early this spring, and the remaining athletes are looking for all the help they can find.
They’ll have plenty of opportunity to turn new people to their sport this weekend.
Nordic combined throws competitors into action in two sports, ski jumping and cross-country skiing, at least in the winter. Athletes first jump, then their results are translated into staggered start times, so the worse a jumper is, the longer they have to wait to start their race and the more ground they’ll have to make up on their competitors.
Steamboat Springs long has been a haven for the sport, and that’s only become more true recently, as it’s supplied most of the athletes for the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team’s Olympic squad.
In the summer, they still ski jump, thanks to the all-season plastic coverings on two jumps at Howelsen Hill, but swap in their snow skis for roller skis, which are basically stretched out rollerblades.
Thursday accounted for the jumping portion of the Ski Jumping Extravaganza Nordic combined competition, and the athletes will get the chance to race Friday morning in front of the crowd gathered for the Fourth of July parade down Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs.
The youngest athletes will take part in a 1-kilometer running race that begins at 9:15 a.m., while the older athletes — including Fletcher and several other of the nation’s top Nordic combined athletes — will compete in a roller ski race starting at 9:30 a.m., both events going in laps on the street in the heart of Steamboat.
“It’s awesome,” Fletcher said. “It may not be the hardest course as it’s 3 kilometers and dead flat so it’s hard to get away from people, but it gives us a good workout for sure, and it’s really cool for the fans.”
Steamboat Springs skier Ben Berend will lead the way as he laid down Thursday’s best jump. Aleck Gantick, another Steamboat resident, will start close behind, 7 seconds back. Adam Loomis will be third, 26 seconds behind, Jasper Good fourth, after 28 seconds, and Fletcher fifth after 33 seconds.
The skiing action will continue after the parade with more ski jumping at Howelsen Hill starting at 11 a.m., including a elimination jump competition that will start at 12:30 p.m.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9