The USA Pro Challenge raced its last route through Steamboat Springs in 2015. The event folded in 2016 and will not return.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

The USA Pro Challenge raced its last route through Steamboat Springs in 2015. The event folded in 2016 and will not return.

Top 10 sports stories of 2016

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The year just ended saw several major sports stories, including a league title for Steamboat Springs High School girls soccer, formation of a new professional sports team and the end of the USA Pro Challenge bike race.

Following are summaries of the top 10 sports stories of 2016.

Ladley gets golden

Matt Ladley had put together a solid career as a pro snowboarder in the half-pipe heading into 2016. He elevated that with one of the biggest accomplishments available in his sport, winning the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen.

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Matt Ladley overcame snowy conditions to win X Games gold last winter.

It was a funky kind of night. The snow fell so thick it was hard for fans to even see competitors at the top of the pipe. Riders got in their first of three runs in those conditions, then, the event was postponed and, as the snow kept falling, cancelled. Ladley had laid down the best first run, and that left him atop the field in the biggest event of the year.

It wasn’t a fluke, however. Ladley had the most thorough, successful season of his career in 2016. He capped it with X Games gold, and in a town like Steamboat Springs, that’s an awfully big deal.

Soroco gets a champ, Steamboat runs toward history

In Routt County sports, the term “cross country” has far more often been applied to skiing than to high school running.

Stunning seasons from both local programs, Steamboat Springs and Soroco high schools, changed that, at least for this year.

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Soroco's Chloe Veilleux saved her best running for late in the Class 2A state championship meet, surging from behind to take the lead and win the race.

Chloe Veilleux, a sophomore for the Rams, held back in her Class 2A girls state championship race and drifted back from the leader. She kicked as the race approached the finish, made up all that ground and emerged as the state champ.

Soroco’s Ben Kelley was fourth on the boys side in the 2A race.

In 4A, the Steamboat girls laid down a huge performance of their own. They placed fourth overall, their best team finish since 1993. Winter Boese was seventh, the best individual finish for the team since 1997.

The biggest element of it all? The vast majority of that talent in both programs will return next year.

Best in the West

The Steamboat Springs High School girls soccer program has been one of the most consistent at the school in recent seasons. It took an extra step up in 2016, winning a league title and finishing its best season in a decade.

The squad lost only once in the regular season, in overtime against Centaurus. That run through the regular season included a pair of wins against rival Battle Mountain, the second of which wrapped up Steamboat’s first Western Slope title since 2006.

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The Steamboat Springs High School girls soccer team rushes to celebrate a shoot-out win in the Class 4A state playoffs. The season was the team's best in a decade and included two playoff wins and a Western Slope League championship.

The Sailors charged into the playoffs, won a game there and survived another — a breathtaking game against Silver Lake that was decided by a shootout.

The run finally came to an end in the state quarterfinals, 3-0, against eventual state champ, Lewis Palmer.

Sure, players were sad when it was over, but it didn’t take them long to realize what a great season they’d pieced together.

Drop the puck

Steamboat Springs is home to plenty of professional athletes, and in 2016, it became home to a professional sports team.

The Steamboat Wranglers junior hockey team was announced in the spring, then began playing in the fall at Howelsen Hill in downtown Steamboat. The squad offers young players a chance to hone their skills and begin climbing the pro hockey ladder, and it offers hockey fans in Steamboat the chance to cheer on a hometown team.

The team closed the 2016 portion of its schedule 8-12-1 and in third place in the five-team Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League.

Back to the top

No Routt County wrestling team had put an athlete in the state finals since Treyben Letlow won the second of his back-to-back championships for Hayden in 2011.

That changed in a big way in 2016, when teams sent two wrestlers to fight for titles in the championship matches.

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Steamboat's Hayden Johnson was one of two county wrestlers to qualify for the championship finals in their weight division in February at the state wrestling tournament in Denver.

Steamboat announced it was a wrestling force to again be reckoned with by sending 160-pound sophomore Hayden Johnson to the finals in Class 3A. Soroco, meanwhile, sent freshman Jace Logan to the 145-pound finals.

Neither won, but their second-place finishes accounted for some of the best local results in five years. Locals teams had several other placers, as well.

Steamboat Springs junior Colton Pasternak finished fifth in Class 3A. Hayden’s Hunter Rummel was fifth at 220 pounds, and his teammate, Christian Carson, was sixth at 195.

Arielle Gold strikes silver

Steamboat snowboarder Arielle Gold was still piling up big results with top-five finishes against the best half-pipe snowboarders in the world. She was growing frustrated she couldn’t take that next step, however — that step onto and up the podium.

She took just that step at the X Games in Aspen, flying to a second-place finish. It was her best-ever result in the event — a huge step both for her career and her, personally.

The race is over

The USA Pro Challenge bicycling race took over Steamboat Springs for days at a time in 2011, 2013 and 2015 and brought some of the best cyclists and teams in the business through town.

That won’t be happening again, at least not any time soon. The Pro Challenge never turned a profit in its five years. It was announced in 2015 that the 2016 race would be cancelled, but the news came in 2016 that the event was finished and would never return.

The Pro Challenge was an every-other-year kind of event as far as Steamboat was concerned, but it certainly had major impact on the city in the years it did come. Its fall from the scene will make for a big change in those odd-year Steamboat summers.

A legend passes away

Sven Wiik had long since established himself as one the preeminent names in Nordic skiing in the United States. He was a member of both the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and one of the biggest names in the business.

He still spent his latter years doing what he’d always done, getting out for a good ski whenever possible.

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Longtime Steamboater Sven Wiik was a major player in Nordic skiing, both in Steamboat and around the world.

He died in July of natural causes at 95 years old.

Wiik’s list of accomplishment’s was long. He did everything from helping design the course for the Birkenbeiner, North America’s premier ski marathon, based in Wisconsin, to coaching the 1960 U.S. Nordic skiing Olympic team, to competing in the 1948 Olympics for his native Sweden in gymnastics, which was then a demonstration sport.

Freestylers fly high

Steamboat Ski Area played host to the U.S. Freestyle Nationals for the second consecutive year in 2016, and local skiers took plenty of advantage of home snow.

Several Steamboat-based skiers scored highly in the event.

Olivia Giaccio, a 15-year-old skier new to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club for the 2015-16 winter, pulled out a second-place finish in the individual moguls event, edging out fellow Steamboater Lane Stoltzner, who had her career-best finish by placing third.

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Steamboat Springs moguls skier Jaelin Kauf finished second in dual moguls at the U.S. Freestyle National Championships last winter, one of several local skiers to shine at the event, which took place at Steamboat Ski Area.

Local skiers secured two more podium finishes in the dual moguls competition. Jaelin Kauf was second on the women’s side, and Jeremy Cota was third among the men.

Kauf and Giaccio used those results, plus some solid World Cup finishes, to secure spots on the U.S. Ski Team for the 2016-17 winter.

Buff Pass Trail network grows

It was a summer of plenty of starts and a few stops, but overall, the bicycle trail building continued in 2016.

One of the year’s continuing stories was of trails on Buffalo Pass. Long home to “renegade” trails, a series of official U.S. Forest Service-sanctioned routes were worked during the summer. Those projects hit delays in the fall, however.

Also new this summer was the NPR — No Peddling Required — trail on Emerald Mountain. That’s the latest new toy in what's been a steady flow of new terrain for local riders.

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