John F. Russell: It’s a time to give thanks for the traditions of living in Ski Town USA | SteamboatToday.com

John F. Russell: It’s a time to give thanks for the traditions of living in Ski Town USA

— Wednesday, as I headed up the gondola to cover Scholarship Day, I realized just how special this day is to so many people in Steamboat Springs.

My memories of opening day tend to swirl around the idea of capturing images and words that will bring this day to life. But for those who have made skiing on the first day of the season a holiday tradition, the day was more about creating memories rather than recording them. It was about racing down the slopes and carving the first turns of the season. It was about saying hello to a friend you may not have seen all summer and remembering Steamboat Springs is a ski town.

This year's Scholarship Day followed the official opening weekend. I am terrible at estimating crowd size, but this year, they may have been a bit smaller than normal. The long lines at the gondola were not there, but it's hard to tell on a day when people still seemed to be streaming in shortly after noon, as I headed back to the office to file my photographs and story.

But I wasn't thinking about the numbers as I carved turns out of the snow on Buddy’s Run. I couldn't help but feel the excitement of those who had just stepped off the Storm Peak Express and headed down the hill with smiles plastered across their faces and dreams of a great season ahead of them.

Lets face it — in Steamboat Springs, our thanks arrive before the turkey, stuffing and other treats we find on our Thanksgiving tables. Our residents give thanks one day ahead of the holiday, and it can always be found on the slopes of Mount Werner as the energy and excitement that surround skiing and riding in this town shine brighter than the sun above our heads.

We give thanks that we live in a town where the ski mountain is just around the corner, a town steeped in Olympic traditions, where our children can grow up skiing and understanding the importance of winter sports in this community. In the coming weeks, young skiers will race down the slopes of Howelsen Hill, take flight on the ski jumps and begin training at a new complex on the mountain.

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None of those things will impact my life directly, but I realize just how important skiing is to our community and this town's way of life.

I'm thankful I live in a town built around the better things winter has to offer, a town that has provided me with a job for the past 25 years and a place where I can pursue my true love of photography. I'm thankful that this place has allowed me to cover three Olympic Games and that I've been privileged to tell the stories of the athletes who have made those games so special in the mountains of Colorado.

Sure, I have friends in journalism who have covered the Olympics (both summer and winter), the Kentucky Derby and many other professional sporting events. But very few of them have been able to do that in a town like Steamboat Springs, where the traditions are almost as important as the events, and the athletes are not just stars in the sports they pursue, but members of our community who went to our schools, shop in our grocery store and can be seen at holiday events.

So this weekend, I'm thankful for what Steamboat Springs has provided me for more than a quarter century and grateful for a town that has made me understand just how much the tradition of skiing on opening day — whether the skiing is good or bad — means to the people who live in this valley.

Nobody knows what this winter will brings, but as we give thanks at the end of November, we should all have smiles on our faces as we look forward to the promise of a new season.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966