101 pins: The final collection
March 4, 2018
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Trading pins is harder than I expected.
It seemed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, there were collectors on every corner — their massive collections at their side, ready to trade. We saw a few similar collectors in Pyeongchang at the 2018 Winter Olympics, but nothing on the same scale. I traded one with each, but that didn’t get me far to trading 101 pins.
The way to really make progress is to get aggressive with those around you, with athletes you bump into away from venues, coaches, trainers, fans, journalists, anyone you meet. And really, that’s the reason for a Steamboat pin in the first place, to spread the Ski Town USA gospel on the world's biggest winter sports stage, not just to fill out a pin fanatics collection, to trade something that’s going to go in a binder and stay there for decades.
I did spread the word, but more often by handing pins out than trading them.
Late in the Olympics I gave one to the other housekeeper caring for our room. (I gave the first housekeeper one earlier in the Olympics.) I gave one to an American course official who was partially in charge of the photographers during events at Phoenix Snow Park. He's coming to Steamboat Springs to help work the NCAA Ski National Championships, so it seemed appropriate.
I dished one pin each to the three-man team from the Denver Post, reporter Jason Blevins, columnist Mark Kiszla and photographer Hyoung Chang.
Recommended Stories For You
Blevins looked at me skeptically as we enjoyed a late-night-at-the-Olympics Korean barbecue dinner across the street from our condos and called me out: "I noticed you were a lot stingier with these at the start of the Olympics."
Fair enough, but we spent enough time working side by side with the Post team, and enough time trading jokes, admiration and turns picking up a round that it felt plenty appropriate.
So, I didn’t trade 101 pins. I traded about 25. I gave away half again that many. I brought home one chunk because the pins were so popular in Steamboat they were needed to fill orders already taken. I left one small collection behind at the hotel's front desk for Steamboat Springs’ Kyle Taulman, who is serving as an ambassador at the upcoming U.S. Paralympics in Pyeongchang.
And, I saved a few. One's for my mother-in-law Jodi Brazill, who in a very real sense made my trip possible by spending the month in Steamboat with my wife and our infant daughter, happily covering "baby duty" on my assigned days.
Another's for my wife, Jacki Reichenberger, who didn't blink when I aggressively pursued the chance to leave for three weeks, then, insanely enough, opted to tack another week of Asian vacationing on to the end of that trip.
Covering the Olympics is hard. Another journalist joked on Twitter that a great way to get a blank look from a journalist covering the Olympics is to ask what he or she did day before yesterday.
Was that the halfpipe day? Or Nordic combined? Or snowboard cross? Those were all highlights, events I'll never forget, but in the storm of 12- and 16-hour workdays, they blend together.
The best way to befuddle them even more, he said, is to ask what they did the day before they left.
The first week of the Olympics was bitterly cold, cutting through whatever clothing someone could find to counteract it.
The second week included some of the hardest stories and longest days. I stayed up all night to write the story of Tim Fletcher, diagnosed with ALS, and his trip to South Korea to watch his sons compete because I didn't want any regrets about what I considered the most important single story of my trip.
It was hard marching up and down the ski slope day after day, hard finding unique angles for stories and unique spots for photos.
I was hiking to what I hoped was one such spot before the Olympics truly even started, covering women’s moguls practice on one of those early, bitterly cold nights.
I was hoofing it up the side of the moguls course, something I've done 1,000 times in Steamboat Springs without anything going disastrously wrong.
I'd tried something similar in Sochi, but I hadn’t packed crampons for the climbing and couldn’t gain any traction in the grainy manmade snow of that Olympics. I didn't go all the way with crampons this time but did bring some microspikes, and they allowed me to march right up the side of the course.
I was one step — seriously, one step — from the platform next to the lower air on the moguls course. It was a big step, I knew, the steepest part of the climb and, since many coaches, competitors and course workers had been skiing down through that area, the slickest.
I took the step, lost my grip on the snow and began sliding quickly back down. I shouted at a photographer who'd been hiking up behind me and he leapt out of the way just in time, replying, I think, in German.
Finally, I came to a rest in some loose snow about halfway back to the bottom.
"Hey!" someone shouted from that platform, now once again an impossibly long distance away. "Why don't you take the stairs?"
Still, covering the Olympics is an incredible opportunity, as good as it can get for nearly any journalism job, let alone one at a small daily newspaper in a Colorado mountain town. It's a bucket-list item for many reporters, and it deserves to be. An amazing, inspirational story awaits every morning when you wake up.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. There's not one such story a day. There are a dozen.
It’s a challenge.
There may be 25 other American reporters at an event, usually the very best of the very best from American sports media, and you’re there ready to work with all the same pieces of the story they are. Can you find something they didn’t? Can you see the story they don't? Will you get the interview they can't?
Every day for three weeks that’s what you wake up to, and it's incredible and its fun and it’s hard.
The hardest part of the Olympics, though, came as I left.
The last pin, pin 101, is for my daughter, Lydia, who turned 7 months old Thursday. Leaving her Feb. 3 was harder than any of the cold I’d encounter, any of the long hours or exhausting hikes. It was the hardest part of the Olympics for me, and coming back home will be the best.