Nationals await Nordic combined team |

Nationals await Nordic combined team

Chicago-area venue carries Steamboat ties

U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team member Johnny Spillane flies down the jump in Steamboat Springs on Sunday. The team heads next weekend to the U.S. National Championships near Chicago.
Joel Reichenberger

— On Sunday morning, the members of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team flew off the Steamboat Springs hill named after Carl Howelsen, running through one of their final days of training before they ship off to Illinois and another hill the Norwegian ski jumping legend pioneered.

Before Howelsen made his way to Steamboat Springs and helped spark the city’s obsession with ski jumping, he stopped in Fox River Grove, Ill., and lit the same fire there.

That hill — part of the Norge Ski Club — lies on the outskirts of Chicago and will play host this weekend to the U.S. National Ski Jumping Championships.

The event is expected to draw nearly 70 special jumpers from across the country and 30 Nordic combined athletes, including the wealth of team members from Steamboat Springs.

“I don’t get too worked up about nationals, but it is a competition and you always want to win,” Johnny Spillane said. “I’ve never been there, so I don’t know what to expect, but it should be interesting.”

Summer has been filled with training for the team. It made a trip to Europe for a Summer Grand Prix competition, has worked plenty in Park City, Utah, and spent the past several days working in Steamboat, capping that camp with a roller ski time trial on Steamboat Boulevard and Fish Creek Falls Road on Saturday and a short jumping session Sunday morning.

For the ski team members, the championships don’t so much signal a must-win event but rather the start of their slow descent into the real season.

The World Cup schedule kicks off Nov. 25 in Kuusamo, Finland.

“We had an OK trip to the Summer Grand Prix (in Europe). That let us know we had a little work to do on the jumps,” Spillane said. “But we’re close. … There’s always something to improve. Jumping is like a golf swing. You have it one moment and the next it’s gone. You’re always trying to get it when you’ve lost it and keep it when you’ve got it.”

The trip to Illinois offers the team a unique opportunity, definitely a departure from the Rocky Mountains and the frozen competition grounds of Europe.

Still, the all-season jump is approximately the same size as Steamboat’s only year-round jump.

“They’ll get 6,000 or 7,000 people to show up, as long as there isn’t a Bears game going on,” U.S. Nordic combined coach Chris Gilbertson said. “It gets pretty rowdy. That jump, it’s the tallest thing around, so it sticks out. It’s cool. You can see the Sears (Willis) Tower from the top.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email

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