Home, sweet home for ski jumpers on Fourth of July | SteamboatToday.com

Home, sweet home for ski jumpers on Fourth of July

Two-time Olympian Taylor Fletcher leads a pack of Nordic combined skiers up Fish Creek Falls Road in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday morning. Nordic combined and ski jumping athletes are in Steamboat this week training and preparing for Friday and Saturday's Ski Jumping Extravaganza Fourth of July event. Wednesday they worked through an annual time trial race

— There are harder races and, without a doubt, bigger races.

The Nordic combined skiers who will take to Steamboat Springs' downtown streets Saturday morning for the annual Fourth of July Nordic combined race have ranked up Olympic appearances, World Championship medals and World Cup starts by the dozen.

There's something different, something sweet and something thrilling, about their annual summer pilgrimage to Steamboat Springs, however.

Nordic combined action starts at 9 a.m. Friday with ski jumping on the plastic all-season jumps at Howelsen Hill, then wraps up with the cross country ski portion starting at 9:15 a.m. Saturday on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat on roller skis, just before the start of the annual parade. Younger racers will compete in a 1-kilometer run while older athletes will do a 3K roller ski race.

"It's absolutely one of my favorite events," 2014 Winter Olympian Bryan Fletcher. "Any time you get to come home and train in front of a hometown crowd, compete in front of a hometown crowd, it's something special."

For many of the skiers, like Fletcher, it is home, and for the rest, it has been home for at least awhile as they lived and trained in town.

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No matter how long they stayed, however, the Fourth of July event has been a staple of summer for this generation of athletes. It started in 2007, after the completion of the HS75 ski jump, so they came of age jumping in July with big crowds filling the landing zone and racing the three-kilometer street race before the annual holiday parade as thousands cheer from the sidewalks.

"The whole town comes out, and they come and watch us jump, and it's such a great atmosphere," said Jasper Good, a Steamboat skier who earned his first World Cup start in February. "I just get excited. It's the Fourth of july, the whole atmosphere is there and it's just a super fun event."

"It's one of my favorite races of the year," added Michael Ward, an Aspen skier who's accepted Steamboat as a second home.

It's a popular event among athletes, but it's not exactly an easy one.

Steamboat's largest all-season jump hill is big enough to catch some serious air, two-time Olympian Taylor Fletcher explained, and it's important to catch that air, because the ski race element is short compared to the 10-kilometer course athletes usually tackle in winter comps.

"If you can go all out to the wall for 3K, you can make up some serious ground, but you have to jump well, too, if you want to win it," he said.

Still, winning the race is only part of the attraction.

"Being able to come back and see family, sleep at home, it's mentally refreshing," Fletcher said. "Steamboat's been there for me for as long as I've been in the program, supporting me, and it's driven me to be who I am. There's nothing more I need than that."

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

What’s going on?

New to Steamboat and wondering what the deal is? Here’s a guide:

Nordic combined is an Olympic event that combines ski jumping and cross country skiing, and, thanks to modern equipment, competitions can actually take place in the summer.

There are two all-season ski jumps at Howelsen Hill, an HS75 (larger) and an HS45 (smaller.) There is a hard plastic track on the actual jump where athletes set their skis. The landing zone, meanwhile, is coated with an Astroturf-like carpet featuring really long strands of “grass” to allow a smooth landing. Water is applied liberally via sprinklers to keep everything sliding.

For the cross country skiing race, athletes use roller skis, similar to rollerblades but not so “1995.”

Schedule

Friday

9 a.m. — Ski jumping begins. Each athlete will get three jumps, the first being a trial and the second counting for Saturday’s Nordic combined race. An athlete’s best jump between the second and third jumps will also count for a separate ski jumping competition.

Saturday

9:15 a.m. — Athletes will compete in a three-kilometer cross country ski race. The best jumper will start first, the second best next and so on until everyone is on course. The first skier across the finish line wins.

11 a.m. — Saturday’s jumping isn’t related to Nordic combined, but many of those athletes will compete again, joining other jumpers from the area and around the country, including much of the U.S. Ski Team’s women’s jumping squad. A qualification round will start at 11. The main event begins at 12:30 p.m. with the top 32 jumpers. They will be whittled down to 16 after the first jump, then 8 before a champion emerges.