European-style slalom event returns to Steamboat |

European-style slalom event returns to Steamboat

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Alpine skier Alexandra Blair makes a turn during the 2018 Murphy Roberts Holiday Classic at Howelsen Hill.
Leah Vann

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In 2001, Chris Puckett and David Baldinger created a race in Steamboat Springs that gave local skiers and spectators a the chance to experience an event that is common in Norway, Italy or France. Eighteen years later, that event is still drawing a crowd and emitting a European feel on the oldest continuously operating ski area in the country.

The Murphy Roberts Holiday Classic is a high-caliber slalom race that brings in FIS — International Federation of Skiing — athletes from all over the world to compete on Howelsen Hill on Dec. 21, 22 and 23. The race was renamed in honor of Murphy Roberts, a former Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Alpine athlete who passed away unexpectedly in 2016 at the age of 22. 

“Their goal was to try to make it more exciting and more appealing for people to watch, and in turn, drive the best racers to come here to Steamboat to race it,” said Jon Nolting, associate executive director of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. “Really, it was a new concept.”

The event features three days of slalom racing, starting with a national junior race Saturday and a pair of FIS events on Sunday and Monday. 

Sunday is the day, or more specifically evening, to watch. 

Under the lights, athletes will compete for the biggest prize purse the Holiday Classic has ever offered at $4,000. That’s just for the first-place finisher. In the past, the payoff for first and second place was separated by a small gap, but this year is a lot different. The second-place finisher will receive $750 dollars, with third place taking home $250.

“The idea with the prize money this year was to really put a lot on first place,” Nolting said. “This year we’re putting all the money on first to make it really exciting for that top spot.” 

Murphy Roberts Holiday Classic schedule

Sat, Dec. 21 — National Junior Race
Women run 1 start 9 a.m., run 2 start 12:15 p.m.
Men run 1 start 10:15 a.m., run 2 start 1:30 p.m.

Sun, Dec. 22 – FIS Night Race
Women run 1 start 1:15 p.m., run 2 start 5:30 p.m. Men run 1 start 2:30 p.m., run 2 start 6:45 p.m.

Mon, Dec. 23 – FIS Day Race
Women run 1 start 9 a.m., run 2 start 12:15 p.m.
Men run 1 start 10:15 a.m., run 2 start 1:15 p.m.

Fighting for the money, the women will begin their second run at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, with the men following at 6:45 p.m. On as steep a face as Howelsen, it’ll be a tough battle. Last year, the men’s winner was determined by 0.04 seconds. That miniscule amount of time could possibly determine who walks away with $4,000 dollars, or just $750. 

The 2018 men’s night race winner, Jacob Dilling, is returning along with Steamboat Springs native and University of Denver ski team member Jett Seymour, who took second at the night race last year. 

More than 40 members of the SSWSC will be competing over the three days. Some college-level club alumni will participate as well, along with some foreign competitors who have been competing at NorAm events in Canada. In all, athletes will represent 15 different counties. 

What is slalom?

Slalom is a discipline within Alpine, or downhill skiing. In slalom, a series of poles, or gates, are put on a course. The objective is for a skier to pass between the gates as fast as possible, without missing one, as that would result in disqualification.

Spectators aren’t left to stand in the cold and decipher the race by themselves, though. With fire pits and European spiced wine to keep them warm, attendees will be entertained and have the event explained by a pair of commentators.

“They’re well known and are funny,” Nolting said. “People will come out, and even if they don’t know ski racing, they appreciate the jokes. It’s fun and it helps them follow the racing.”

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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