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Crowd packs beneath Howelsen for Fourth

Steamboat Springs Nordic combined skier Koby Vargas soars over the crowd Monday during the Jumpin' and Jammin' event at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs. Hundreds packed into the landing flats and along the jump to watch the event.
Joel Reichenberger

— It’s not such a novelty anymore when Decker Dean wins a ski jumping event. 
Dean shone brightly three years ago at the annual Fourth of July Jumpin’ and Jammin’ summer ski jumping and Nordic combined event in Steamboat Springs. As a 12-year old, approximately half the size of his U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team competitors, he won the Calcutta event that summer and placed second in a special jumping competition.

In many ways, three years later, Dean, 15, is still an up-and-coming young skier.

He’s grown since then, though his World Cup-competing teammates still tower over him. He’s entered Steamboat Springs High School, but he’ll only be a sophomore this fall. And he’s tested the waters of international competition, though only once, finishing back in the pack at a Park City, Utah Continental Cup event last winter.



But, wow, can he jump.

Monday, Dean again reigned at one of Steamboat’s biggest skiing stages, the annual Fourth of July jumping event. He won the event, taking advantage of a few opportunities granted by his age and experience, but out-soared his competitors — even though most had vastly more experience — all the same.



“Since I was really little, I had a really strong passion for jumping,” Dean said. “I grew up watching it and watching it and watching it, and nothing really compares to my love for ski jumping.”

The day’s competition started with a race on Lincoln Avenue, the conclusion of a Nordic combined event started with jumps Sunday afternoon.

The “big dogs” of the sport in the United States dominated there. Olympian Bryan Fletcher won, coasting across the finish line in front of thousands of Fourth of July revelers minutes before the start of the annual downtown parade.

Taylor Fletcher, a two-time Olympian, was second. He started the race 19 seconds after his brother, Bryan, and shaved 14 seconds off during the 3-kilometer roller skiing race, finishing five seconds back.

Ben Loomis, the leader after Sunday’s jumping, was third, nine seconds off Bryan Fletcher’s finish.

From there, action moved across the Yampa River to the Howelsen Hill jumping complex, and the rules in that ski jumping competition allowed someone like Dean to shoot to the top.

Younger athletes were able to start their jumping runs higher, giving them the opportunity to sail farther. The goal was to have all the jumpers falling in the same area, and they did, cheered on by hundreds who packed the landing zone and lined the side of the jump to get a close view of the action.

The competition used each athletes’ longest jump in each round to narrow the field from 48 to 32 to 16 and finally, to eight.

That’s where Dean shone the brightest, followed up by a pair of fellow Steamboat Springs skiers who are currently on the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, Jasper Good in second and Ben Berend in third.

“It’s fun watching all these young kids go huge,” Good said.

He took the day’s activities in stride. He was fifth in the Nordic combined race on Lincoln Avenue, his best finish in the annual Fourth of July event.

When it was over, he rode away from the ski jumps on a unicycle.

“I love the atmosphere here. Coming home for the Fourth is definitely a highlight of our summer,” he said. “Everyone takes it seriously, but at the same time, it’s a fun, Fourth of July event.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9


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