Steamboat Ski Area, Winter Sports Club to build race venue | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat Ski Area, Winter Sports Club to build race venue

A new trail at Steamboat Ski Area will serve as a venue for Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Alpine ski racers. Organizers hope the dedicated space and specialized snow surface can be a boost for the club's Alpine program. The club is hoping to raise a total of $2.35 million for the project. The new trail is shown in the rendering, all the way to the right side and lit by lights.

— It's an ambitious plan that will change the face of Mount Werner and, organizers hope, the fortunes of Steamboat Springs Alpine ski racers.

A partnership between the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and Steamboat Ski Area will result in a new Alpine skiing training venue cut into the lower slopes of Mount Werner, just to skier's left of the current See Me ski trail.

Construction on the project is expected to begin in spring 2015.

"This is one of the most ambitious undertakings the club has ever embarked on," Winter Sports Club Executive Director Jim Boyne said about the project after finalizing a contract with the ski area.

About half of the $2.35 million the club is hoping to raise for the project already has been committed.

The end result will be a venue fitted to slalom and giant slalom training and racing, tucked in between See Me and the rarely used Christie III chairlift.

The changes to the area will be extensive and begin at the top of Christie Peak, where a starting hut has signaled the beginning of a race course for years.

Trees and brush will be cleared on the top, opening the way for a trail that will run down and meet up with what is now the See Ya trail, to skier's left of See Me. The two trails currently are separated by a row of lights and snowmaking equipment. Those will be moved a short distance into See Me to widen the lane on one side. More foliage then will be cleared to widen it on the other side.

Lights and new snowmaking equipment will line both sides of the new trail, which will be closed to the public.

Ecosign, a Whistler, British Columbia-based firm, was hired to design the run, and it will be regraded to create an ideal race course and training ground.

Sitz and See Me long have been a race and training venue for Winter Sports Club athletes, but that training usually has been required to be wrapped up by 2 p.m. as runs served as a thoroughfare for skiers and snowboarders coming down after a day on the mountain.

The area always was considered an ideal spot for a slalom run by Loris Werner. Now it can be, ski area Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen said.

"It was his dream of a slalom run," Allen said. "When he had my position years ago, that was his vision for it, and we're going to improve upon that greatly."

A conversation about the potential trail has been ongoing for several years, but it only got serious about a year ago. It was one of the first things on Boyne's plate when he joined the program last summer.

Several other locations were considered, but none offered the right set of lights, snowmaking and lift access that made the final option so appealing.

The Winter Sports Club then set about raising funds.

Caroline Lalive Carmichael, a Steamboat Springs Olympian in Alpine skiing, joined that effort. She became even more intertwined with the plans when she took over as the club's Alpine director for Deb Armstrong, who was another a major player in pushing the plans to this point.

The biggest initial hurdle was convincing donors why the project was important.

The answer to that question starts not just with the dirt work that will make it a good, versatile giant slalom and slalom venue, or in the lighting that will allow racers to train into the evenings.

It starts on the snow itself. It will be heavier, wetter and harder than what skiers will find elsewhere on the mountain.

"A lot of people draw the analogy between a turf field and a normal field," Lalive Carmichael said. "The surface the kids are racing on has a higher moisture content, and that will make for a much firmer snow surface."

It hasn't been possible to build or sustain such a surface in Steamboat as all of the places Winter Sports Club athletes train — at the ski area and at Howelsen Hill — also are used by the general public.

"No one wants to ski on an icy, really hard slope," Lalive Carmichael said.

No one except ski racers.

Any Steamboat Springs marketing whiz can tell you snow isn't always snow. Turns out, racing snow isn't Champagne powder, and the fluffy stuff long has been a handicap for local racers who train in Steamboat, then travel to race on a style of snow that's entirely foreign.

"There was a season I needed to do some training and I couldn't come back here," Lalive Carmichael said, recalling her days on the World Cup circuit. "I had to go train elsewhere, but this is my home. It's a shame not to be able to come home to train."

Lalive Carmichael was the last Steamboat Springs-based Alpine skier to compete in an Olympics, in 2002. There's currently just one Steamboat skier on the U.S. Ski Team in Alpine.

A new venue, complete with a new snow surface, could begin to change that.

Allen was optimistic that the course could serve as a training venue for other teams, even other nations. Boyne and Lalive Carmichael said they hope it can provide a jolt to an Alpine program that's produced plenty of quality skiers in recent years, but one that's struggled to produce athletes ready for the sport's elite level.

"It will continue to attract more and more people who are going to move their families somewhere for a strong program, like my family did," Lalive Carmichael said. "We want to make sure we are in that top echelon of programs and are able to provide with this opportunity."

The plan won't be to abandon Howelsen Hill. Not in the slightest, Boyne said. Rather, it will free up much-needed elbow room there for the Alpine program as well as the Alpine snowboarding and Telemark teams.

If all goes as planned, with construction starting in the spring, the course could be ready to race by the 2015-16 winter season.

"In terms of the scope of the project and in terms of the fundraising, it's fitting as we enter the next 100 years," Boyne said. "We're moving in with a vengeance. This is a huge project."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9