9 Steamboat Olympians share their favorite trails and skiing tips
January 1, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The winter of 2018 was an Olympic year, which meant one thing in Steamboat Springs: A herd of locals packed their ski and snowboard bags and headed overseas to the world's biggest athletic stage.
It's a pilgrimage that happens every four years here in Ski Town, USA, and one the town is especially proud of. That Steamboat fosters and breeds Olympians is a testament to its values and character, but also, its easy access to world-class outdoor recreation.
In 2018, the town's renowned Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club sent 15 athletes to the Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Of these athletes, Winter Sports Club-trained Ester Ledecka won golds in the Alpine skiing super-G and snowboard parallel giant slalom, Steamboat born and raised Arielle Gold won the bronze medal in halfpipe, and Jarryd Hughes won the silver in snowboardcross.
"During Olympic years, our community swells with pride," said Jon Nolting, athletic director of the club, which employs nine Olympians. "We have athletes in everything from Nordic combined to snowboarding and mogul skiing. It's when our local athletes get their chance to put their skills to the test for all the world to see."
From John Steele becoming the town's first Olympian in 1932 in Lake Placid to local Nordic combined skiers winning seven medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Steamboat has ties to more than 100 Olympic athletes, with more than 160 Olympic appearances between them — more than any other town in North America.
"The Olympic tradition here is hard to rival," said retired Nordic combined skier Johnny Spillane, who brought home three silver medals in 2010 and now owns Steamboat Flyfisher. "The town has created an atmosphere that breeds Olympic-quality competitors. Some towns nurture baseball or football; Steamboat nurtures Olympians."
Tips from Olympians
Giant slalom, 1984 (gold), 1988
"If it's a powder day, I like hitting First Tracks for fresh powder. Then, while everyone else is racing over to Sundown, I take my time and go inside to get some water before heading the opposite way down to Four Points. I can get three or four runs there without anyone else around. It's counter-intuitive: You hurry to get up to the top of the gondola, and then you wait 10 minutes or so, but it works. For groomers, I love the lower front side of the mountain, especially Vertigo. It has a long fall line, isn't skied much, is often cut-up and soft, and doesn't have firm moguls. I like to link big, GS turns all the way down. If I'm with the kids, I head to Tomahawk first thing; no one else is back there then. You have a window of maybe one run before people get there."
Nordic combined, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 (three silvers)
"Having skied in Steamboat all my life, I know the mountain like the back of my hand. My favorite days are when it’s nasty weather and you seek shelter in the trees. Steamboat has some of the best tree skiing in the world, with no shortage of powder stashes. With a little effort, you can find great snow almost every day. I love Christmas Tree Bowl and the gates, but the whole mountain offers great snow if you're willing to explore. It's also hard to beat a bluebird day tearing down groomers. If you want to get your legs burning, try a top to bottom run down Vagabond."
Slalom, 1964 (silver); 1970 World Championships (gold)
"I start my day on Buddy's Run, which reminds me of skiing in the Olympics with Buddy Werner and Jimmie Heuga. I touch Buddy's sculpture before starting down, out of respect and for good luck. If it's a powder day, I head for Shadows, which reminds me of Robin Olds, the legendary fighter pilot who loved deep powder and tight trees. On cold days, I like Sunshine Bowl. It faces south so you have sun on your back on the lift and in your face on the way down. I also like making big GS turns down Rolex when it's groomed. I made the first turns down this trail with Jean-Claude Killy and Rolex president Roland Puton. Then I do my 1 p.m. free clinic on Heavenly Daze. I love helping people ski better — even if they don't make it to the Olympics, if I can give them more confidence, then it's a Heavenly Day. Finally, to see how much slower I am since my racing days, I hit the NASTAR course at Bashor. My handicap tells me how I'm skiing compared to current and future Olympians. Lastly, I ski Heavenly Daze and See Me. They face west, have afternoon sun and good visibility."
Ski with Billy: Look for the "Billy Kidd is Skiing Today" sign at the top of the gondola, and meet Kidd at the sign for a run down his favorite Heavenly Daze.
Super-G/downhill combined, 1994, 1998
"On a powder day, I head to the gondola at 8 a.m. and get in line with the rest of the powder hounds. At the top, I let all the diehards head down to line up at Storm Peak while I ski Four Points for a run or two. Then I hang out at the top waiting for them to drop the rope to Sundown. This way, I'm usually one of the first chairs to arrive at the top of Shadows. Then I'll ski three or four non-stoppers from Sideburn to Shadows before heading off to the Chutes, assuming patrol gets them open."
Caroline Lalive Carmichael
Super-G, combined, 1998, 2002
"It depends on the snow conditions, but if Pony Express is open and groomed, I head straight there for some awesome ripper turns down Longhorn. It reminds me of my World Cup days and the freedom and joy of arcing turns. If there's fresh powder, I head over to 2:30 Trees. There's something magical about them; they're soothing to my soul. I could do run after run through these trees with an ear-to-ear smile. I also might just take laps down Why Not with my 3-year-old daughter, Freya. There's nothing better than sharing my love of skiing with her."
Moguls, 1992; Canadian Freestyle Ski Team head coach, 2006 to 2014
"I love skiing the mountain with good friends. They don’t have to be ripping skiers — all they need is a good attitude, regardless of the conditions. Pressing glass is great, as I'm programed to be up early. I love taking my first warmup run or two down Vagabond, making big GS turns. The grooming is always impeccable and you can open it up with no one on the trail. Then it's off to Storm Peak for a run down the face. From there, I head to Tornado or Nelson’s Run; the moguls aren't super big and, if your friends don’t want to ski bumps, there's some variety. At the cat track, it’s hard not to head across Rainbow Saddle to White Out. It’s usually soft and reasonable even for old guys like me. The left side is a bit more rhythmical and the right offers more space. I also like hitting Chutes 1, 2 and 3 and Gate D off Morningside. Then, for a last cruiser, I like marching down Upper and Lower Rainbow en route to the T-Bar for an après beer and gourmet panini."
Snowboardcross, 2006 (Canada); 9-time X Games athlete (three-time silver medalist)
"Steamboat's combination of elevation, geography, climate and geology make getting powder turns pretty basic. For the best powder, get here early. If the forecast calls for snow, try a movie instead of the bar, or one cocktail instead of three. Eat a big dinner, get your Z's and try to be in the gondola line by 7:30 a.m. Locals call it 'pressing glass' and I call it a good decision. You'll be glad as you carve up untracked. Ask your friendly ski patrol about when they might finish avalanche control and plan for those rope drops. Even if there’s no new snow, our snow stays cold and dry long after the last storm. Even first tracks on fresh corduroy are worth it."
Giant slalom, 1992 (and four-time National Champion)
"If I only have an hour or so, I make it count. I’ll head straight up to the top and ski down through Shadows with as few stops as I can. Then I’ll head back up Sundown Express for one more trip down Two O’Clock trees, again with as few stops as possible. I have to remind myself to watch out for the catwalk crossings, especially in flat light. Then, it’s back up the Elkhead lift to rip one fast run down Heavenly Daze and See Me. There's nothing like ending the session making GS arcs down a big, wide trail to send you home with a smile. Those few runs usually do it for me when I'm in a hurry."
Moguls, 1988, 1992 (bronze)
"I still like to ski bumps — fluffy, slushy and almost anything in between. If it's not a powder day, I'll take a quick warmup on Rudi's to Four Points. Depending on the snow, I'll then head toward Twister, Tornado or Cyclone. I can stay warmer that way instead of going right up to Storm Peak. I'll then lap Four Points, checking out what I missed, or even hit my namesake Nelson's Run to reminisce when it was Four Points lift line. Next, I head up Storm Peak and hit skier's right under it, which keeps nice snow. Then I'll dart into Typhoon to the Bar UE lift. Up top again, I'll cut across to Sideburn and then dump onto Sunset and over to White Out — as nonstop as possible. I also like Royal Flush on Pony Express, which has a great steep section, as well as Longhorn and WJW. For the last run, I'll hit Oops (nice, big bumps) and then ski back onto Heavenly Daze before dropping into Vertigo and finishing at Rabbit Ears Terrain Park."
Ski with Nelson: Hit the bumps with Carmichael who hosts a free mogul clinic on his namesake Nelson’s Run at 1 p.m. on select Sundays. Check the grooming report to see if he is skiing, and meet at the Nelson’s sign outside the new Four Points Lodge.
To reach Eugene Buchanan, call 970-871-4276 or email ebuchanan@SteamboatPilot.com.