Ski Jumping Extravaganza has grown into Steamboat Springs holiday tradition | SteamboatToday.com

Ski Jumping Extravaganza has grown into Steamboat Springs holiday tradition

Most town's celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks in the night sky, parades filled with horses and patriotic themes and cowboys competing in the rodeo arena.

Steamboat has all that, but what sets our town, what sets Ski Town U.S.A., apart from other towns this Fourth of July is its long Olympic heritage.

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Nordic program director Todd Wilson thinks the best way to celebrate our country's independence, and our town's own unique heritage, is by hosting a ski jumping competition in one of the hottest months of the year.

"If we held a ski jumping competition on New Year's Day that would be expected," Wilson said. "But holding a ski jumping competition in July — that's unique."

The Fourth of July Ski Jumping Extravaganza has become as much of our town's Fourth of July Celebration as hotdogs and bucking broncos. The event's roots stretch back eight years when 19 athletes competed in the very first Ski Jumping Extravaganza on the town's recently-completed, plastic-covered HS75 ski jump at Howelsen Hill. The main event took place the day before the parades, the cowboys and acted as the kick off to the annual celebration. The roller skiing portion took place in front of the huge crowd that gathered for the start of the July 4 parade down Lincoln Avenue.

Since then the event has enjoyed steady growth, and today it has become a part of our town's holiday celebration with more than 80 athletes — many of them from the U.S. and Canadian Nordic combined teams, the U.S. Women's Ski Jumping Team and the members of the men's ski jumping team — stepping into the spotlight on one of the busiest weeks of the summer. There are also dozens of young hopefuls from Steamboat Springs, and Utah that come to see how they measure up to the big boys, and girls on the U.S. Teams.

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Wilson said the idea behind the events were planted long before the plastic was placed on Howelsn's HS75 hill, but were only allowed to grow once those projects were completed. This year's competition has been expanded to include the HS45 hill, which was covered in plastic last fall.

Wilson said a small group of organizers came up with the idea back in 2000 and then quickly added ski jumping to the list of holiday events when the jumps were completed in 2006.

The events of the Ski Jumping Extravaganza drawing large crowds to the base of Howelsen Hill to watch the jumping rounds, and fueling an enthusiastic response from the thousands who watch the athletes compete on roller skis down Lincoln Avenue in advance of the holiday parade.

In terms of importance, Wilson points out that the competition and results are not a huge priority for the athletes who come to compete. Some of the results may be used to determine if an athlete gets to travel for summer training camps, but team's will not be determined based on the results of the Ski Jumping Extravaganza.

But the events are popular with visitors, and ski jumping fans who come to Steamboat Springs for the Fourth of July.

"We get a bigger crowd for these events than we do for the winter events," Wilson said. "In terms of marketing our sport, and in terms of our athletes gaining exposure these competitions are a pretty big deal."

U.S. Nordic combined skier Bryan Fletcher agrees.

He's spent the past few months training for the upcoming Olympic season, and says the events in Steamboat Springs are a kind of kick off to the summer competition season.

"This is our first real competition of the summer," Fletcher said. "It's also a great chance for some of the younger skiers to compete with the older guys. We don't get a lot of opportunities to do that, and it's important for our team."

Fletcher said the Fourth of July is a pretty busy time for athletes as they are in the middle of preparing for the winter season. He enjoys the Steamboat competition because it is a chance to come back home for a few days, see friends, and hang out with his family.

He sees the Extravaganza as a part of his holiday tradition, and is hoping to see it continue for some time.

On Monday the team will travel to Europe for training camps, and competitions against the best skiers in the world. But this week he plans to come to Steamboat Springs and celebrate the holiday the best way he can think of — on the jumps.