US Olympic qualifiers returning to Steamboat |

US Olympic qualifiers returning to Steamboat

Freestyle, Nordic combined qualifiers coming in December

Luke Graham
Ski jumper Hyrum Bailey soars off Howelsen Hill's plastic-covered K-68 jump Wednesday morning during a competition that included several members of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team. Ski Corp. executive Andy Wirth confirmed today that Steamboat Springs will host Olympic Qualifiers for the U.S. Nordic Combined and Freestyle teams this December.
John F. Russell

— The 2010 Winter Olympics are in Vancouver, British Columbia, but for some American athletes, the path to the games will go through Steamboat Springs.

Andy Wirth, senior vice president of marketing for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., confirmed Wednesday that Steamboat Springs will host the Olympic Qualifiers for the U.S. Freestyle and Nordic Combined ski teams.

The qualifiers, preliminarily scheduled for Dec. 22 and 23, will bring some of the country’s elite skiers to Northwest Colorado for two days of competition. On the line will be U.S. Olympic team spots for men’s and women’s moguls and aerials, and men’s Nordic combined.

The event also will bring welcome exposure to Steamboat Springs. Wirth said NBC will bring its Olympic television production crew to Steamboat for the qualifiers, which will be televised in high definition as part of a 90-minute special sometime between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Wirth estimated the potential TV audience at between 1.5 million and 3 million viewers.

“Our company is bearing most of the cost,” Wirth said. “We look at this as part of the company’s contribution and part of our marketing. It’s who we are as a brand and company. Of course, it’s who we are as a community.”

Wirth said Ski Corp. also will be looking to the city and other individuals and organizations for funding and volunteer assistance.

While some of the logistics are yet to be finalized, Wirth said the qualifiers likely will take place Dec. 22 and 23. There is the potential, however, for all the events to take place Dec. 23 with the Nordic combined competition in the morning, moguls in the afternoon and aerials under the lights at night.

The moguls and aerials will take place on the Voo Doo ski trail at Steamboat Ski Area. The Nordic combined event will be at Howelsen Hill.

Wirth said details will continue to be finalized in the coming months.

Wirth said Steamboat is a natural location for such a prestigious event and expressed excitement not only for its potential to market the community and resort, but also for what it means to fans of skiing.

“This place is the equivalent of playing high school football in Texas,” said Wirth, who also is president of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s board of directors. “We’re surrounded by greatness in this valley. : There are not many ways to look at this and not be generally excited.”

Not the 1st time

Steamboat Springs also was home to the U.S. Freestyle Team’s Olympic Qualifiers in December 2005 when Ryan St. Onge thrilled the hometown crowd with a nighttime win in aerials that vaulted him onto the Olympic team.

The significance of the Olympic Qualifiers certainly isn’t lost on Steamboat’s Travis Mayer, whose life changed during the 2002 Gold Cup at Deer Valley Resort in Utah.

At the time, Mayer was an outsider looking in at a potential spot on the Olympic team. He put together an amazing run during the Gold Cup – which later became the U.S. Olympic Qualifier – to earn a bid to the Salt Lake City games. At the Olympics, and skiing on the same course where the Gold Cup was held, Mayer captured a silver medal on the sport’s biggest stage.

“The week before (the Gold Cup), I got second in a World Cup,” Mayer said Wednesday. “I just tried to assimilate that mentally. Apart from that, when you’re an outside chance like that, you can ski as absolutely hard as possible because you’re a longshot anyway. For me, that’s a liberating feeling. It makes it a lot of fun.”

Wirth said the Freestyle and Nordic Combined teams likely will hold one spot open for the winners of the qualifiers, assuming those winners are eligible for the Olympics. The Freestyle and Nordic Combined teams are the only two teams for which Olympic qualifiers will be held, Wirth said.

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