Dave Shively: Carnival calling
February 10, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Everyone loves the Winter Carnival events.
And then the weekend ends.
The most unique events seem to fade into obscurity, only coming out of the woodwork once a year as if they’re a novelty.
Two events in particular, biathlon and skijoring, should have broad interest, appeal and participants in a county where traditional Western cowboy disciplines – shootin’ guns and ridin’ horses – mix with the Alpine and Nordic worlds.
Yet, the folks pursuing the elite ends of these sports are everywhere but Steamboat.
While the muzzle-loaders were firing away at their quirky annual meeting at Howelsen Hill, Steamboat’s junior biathlon team was competing at the Colorado Biathlon Club State Championships at Colorado’s only range in Fraser.
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Marty Smith hadn’t even heard of biathlon until three years ago, but after the U.S. Biathlon coaches invited him to a summer training camp, the coaches found reason to help Smith train with the Junior National Team.
Smith was at a NorAm Cup pursuit race Saturday in Jericho, Vt., and knows that with his skiing already where it needs to be, he could earn a spot on next year’s Development Team. He just has to shoot as well as he did at a December NorAm race, where he beat all the current members of the team.
“Our World Cup team, after 2010, will have some mature guys that will be retiring,” U.S. Biathlon director of athlete development Piotr Bednarski said. “He’ll be right there in the next group if he sticks it out and, in two or three (years), should be on the World Cup Team.”
The combination of shoot and ski was so engrained in this local who grew up shooting at a cabin off Twentymile Road that he has a shot at making a World Cup team a couple of years into picking up the sport.
Brad Heil loves watching his children race in the carnival’s skijoring events, but he can’t stop the adrenaline flashbacks from his own childhood on the streets of Leadville, where residents fashioned a skijoring event based off Steamboat’s for their own annual carnival. Except the Lake County folk do things a little different.
“You need a tight, capable skier, because you’re ripping the course, horse going full tilt to boogie with a seven- to 10-foot jump,” Heil said of the event that has evolved from its first race in 1949 to a “professional” event considered by riders as the sport’s premier national championship.
The regional circuit of skijoring races had a pair of races this weekend in Eagle, a pair next weekend at 4 Eagle Ranch near Wolcott and finishes in Leadville on March 1 and 2. Unfortunately, after returning home for his final competition two years ago, Heil still couldn’t name another Steamboater who had any interest in the events.
But Heil already has had his kids skijoring behind his snowmobile. He also sees the potential in opening these niche Western heritage hybrid events to beyond one age, ability and weekend.