100 years and counting: Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club celebrates its centennial | SteamboatToday.com

100 years and counting: Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club celebrates its centennial

— While this year's Winter Carnival is entering its second century, its benefactor, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, is right on its ski boot heels, celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2014.

"The club has a proud, century-old tradition of enriching the lives of children and young adults and producing world-class athletes and athletic and community events," Winter Sports Club Executive Director Jim Boyne said. "We've achieved this success through a committed and dedicated team of staff, coaches and volunteers who have a passion for developing the youth of our community through participation in winter sports."

U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team member Johnny Spillane races in the 10-kilometer event in the 2010 individual large hill competition at the Vancouver Olympic Games. Spillane, who retired this year, describes the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club as "one of the cornerstones of Steamboat."John F. Russell

This spirit has been alive and well since the club first was founded in 1914 to plan and promote the first Winter Carnival on Woodchuck Hill. It's now the country's oldest ski club west of the Mississippi, morphing from a ragtag group of volunteers focused on social outings to a world-renowned nonprofit dedicated to introducing children to snow sports and training athletes in Nordic jumping, Alpine skiing, cross-country, snowboarding, Telemark, freestyle and freeskier programs.

The club began its rise in 1916 when it affiliated with the National Ski Association and hosted the National Jumping Distance Championships. The S.K.I. Club, formed in 1917 as a ladies auxiliary to the all-male Steamboat Springs Ski Club, officially merged with the men's club in 1927.

The club officially was incorporated in 1949, with trucking firm president Basil Hallquist elected its first president. With a growing budget and programs, the club sent 12 Olympians to the Olympics during the 1960s, including locals Moose Barrows, Loris Werner and Scott Berry.

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In the 1970s, it entered an agreement with the city of Steamboat Springs, giving the city the lodge, Poma lift, lift shack and all other equipment in exchange for $30,000 and priority use of the hill. By 1987, the club employed 26 coaches for 260 participants and operated on a $230,000 budget, 40 percent of which was covered by fees.

In the 1980s, it sent 10 athletes to the Olympics, and in the 1990s, it sent 36 athletes to three Olympics. In 2006, it sent more athletes to the Torino Olympics than 52 other countries. Excluding this year's Olympics in Sochi, Russia, 79 Olympians from the club have made 135 total Olympic appearances.

The club finally started operating in the black in 2000 and has functioned debt free since 2003, allowing for such improvements as building the water ramp complex at Bald Eagle Lake and installing plastic on the HS45 and HS75 Nordic jumps for summer training.

On the fundraising front, several events have become community traditions, including the Ski Swap, initiated in 1951 by Gordon Wren to help parents and children get needed ski equipment, and the Ski Ball, which originated with the first Winter Carnival and now is called the Stars at Night Gala.

Founded in 1974, the annual Winter Sports Club Scholarship Day is hosted by Steamboat Ski Area on the first day of each season, with all ticket revenues donated to athlete programming fees. Organized by Jim "Moose" Barrows and raising more than $146,000 to date, the Moose is Loose Golf Tournament occurs every September to offset travel expenses for junior athletes qualifying for national championship events. With the goal of raising $10 million, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Foundation was incorporated in 1982 to assist amateur skiers, promote junior skiing, train amateur teams and provide trophies.

The club currently has a full- and part-time staff of 140, an annual operating budget of $2.2 million and is poised to enter its second century with strong athletic focus, solid philosophy, community support and national and international recognition in all disciplines.

"Competitive sports is a fundamental part of building character, confidence and leadership skills in children and young adults, which helps them succeed in all areas of their lives," Boyne said. "It's exciting to watch our athletes learn and master the competitive and life skills necessary to achieve their personal goals and to be the best they can be both on and off the slopes."

Just ask former club member Johnny Spillane, who brought home three silver medals from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics before retiring this year, about the impact the Winter Sports Club had on him.

"It taught me to train hard and dream big, and instilled a work ethic and belief that I could achieve at any level," Spillane said. "It's truly one of a kind. I can't think of any place else in the world where kids in all snow sports disciplines train at the same facility. This creates a unique environment that means a lot to the club's success. It's one of the cornerstones of Steamboat and defines us as a community."

As for the club's centennial year, Boyne said it's "a true celebration of community collaboration and support," involving a deep level commitment from staff and coaches, the city of Steamboat Springs, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and countless other volunteers, contributors and families.

"The club is truly interwoven into the fabric and history of the local community," Boyne said. "It's these successful partnerships that have truly made our community Ski Town USA."