John F. Russell: Athletes jumping into spring, the future | SteamboatToday.com

John F. Russell: Athletes jumping into spring, the future

Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane and Clint Jones going head to head on the jumps in Steamboat Springs.

For young ski jumpers and Nordic combined skiers in Steamboat Springs, it’s a dream come true. For skiing fans, it’s one last chance this winter to see the best our country has to offer. For the U.S. Ski Team, it is a chance to crown a champion — or three.

Don’t let the relaxed smiles or laid-back attitude on the ski jumps this week fool you. The U.S. Nationals are serious business.

They act as a springboard for young ski jumpers and Nordic combined athletes in our country.

The championships are a chance for veterans such as Lodwick and Spillane to pick up some cash and let the younger athletes know exactly who is king of the hill.

This year, the championships will mark the end of the winter season and the start of a new era in Steamboat.

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By the end of next week, the snow will be stripped off the steep sloped landing hills, and by the end of next month, Mother Nature likely will have melted the remaining snow from Howelsen’s slopes. The championships, and the season, will vanish with the snow.

But for the athletes, the end of winter is simply a time to shift gears. These days, ski jumping is a year-round sport. To keep up, athletes must find plastic covered jumps and practice their event when the temperatures climb above freezing.

But if all goes as planned, by this time next year, Steamboat no longer will be limited by the change of seasons. Athletes no longer will be forced to drive across the country to train in the summer.

This summer, heavy equipment will begin to update the face of Howelsen for the first time since I started working here more than a decade ago.

The work will transform the K-50 into a state-of-the-art K-65, complete with plastic. The plastic will provide young ski jumpers the opportunity to practice in the summer for the first time.

How the jumps will change the landscape of Nordic sports in Steamboat has yet to be seen. But it is certain that the new plastic holds the promise of maintaining our long and proud Nordic tradition.

So this week, as I watch the next generation of Olympic stars battle for titles at Howelsen Hill, it will be obvious that the sport of ski jumping has undergone dramatic changes.

But I also will be confident that Steamboat has made the right moves to make sure that it maintains its place in the sport.

Upgrading the jumps and adding plastic to the hills has its costs, but the community will be able to cash in on the return for years to come.

–To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com