Howelsen heart of Steamboat

— Thanks to my 5-year-old son, I recently discovered the real reason Steamboat Springs produces so many Winter Olympians.

It isn’t the fact that Steamboat is surrounded by snow for most of the year, or that everybody around here is so supportive of skiing, or that we happen to have a Winter Sports Club with top coaches and a tradition of cranking out champions that dates back to before I was born.

If you are looking for the reason why Steamboat produces so many Olympians, go to the place where they are born. All you need to do is head down Lincoln Avenue to Fifth Street. Drive across the Yampa River, turn right and follow the road to one of the oldest ski areas in North America.

The past couple of months, I’ve spent time every weekend at Howelsen Hill trying to teach my son how to ski. While he has learned the snowplow, I’m the one that has been enlightened.

On any given Saturday or Sunday afternoon, another Steamboat Olympian is born.

Some of them are busy tuning their skills on the ski jumps or on the steep-pitched face of Howelsen Hill.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

If you want to see that next crop of elite athletes, those star skiers who haven’t even begun to dream of Olympic glory, you will have to look a little harder.

They can be found a few yards past the outrun of the ski jumps, where the carrot pulls them to the top of the hill.

They may not look like Bode Miller as they struggle to grab hold of the tow rope and fight to keep their skis straight, but they are beginning the journey down the path to the elite ranks of international skiing.

It’s a journey most of them will never complete. A few of them will even decide they don’t like skiing at all.

That’s just natural.

But for a select few, Howelsen will be the spark that leads them to the Winter Sports Club where they will take a crash course on how to become an Olympian — and they will owe it all to the small ski area in the heart of Steamboat Springs.

There are lots of ski areas across the country that can put skiers through the motions, but having Howelsen in the heart of downtown is a special treat only a few will ever know.

It reminds us all that skiing is a part of this mountain town and that Olympians can be found, and are born, every day at a modest ski resort called Howelsen Hill.

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