Fly, girl: Steamboat’s Belshaw at home in the air
Steamboat Springs — Maybe someday, Nordic combined will be a sport with World Cup, World Championship and Olympic races for both men and women.
It’s not, now, but that’s not something that’s cost Steamboat Springs skier Annika Belshaw a moment of sleep.
Belshaw won her division of Nordic combined Saturday at the Western Regional Championships handily, but she was less than thrilled, in part, because she was the only girl seriously racing in the U16 division.
For her, the race — depending on what part of the course she was on — was a trudge through sticky spring snow or a gritty test of nerves on ice hidden in the shade, all on a March day so warm she raced in a T-shirt and shorts.
The jumping beforehand, however, is lights her up, and that’s where the Steamboat 14-year old has her sights set when it comes to winter sports.
“It’s just …,” she said, pausing for a second to describe her love of jumping. “You get to fly.”
Belshaw was one of a large collection of local ski racers to shine Friday and Saturday at the Western Regional Championships, an event that brings together young Nordic combined and ski jumping athletes from as far as Canada and Alaska for one last, big competition of the season.
She was one of nine Steamboat Springs skiers to win their age divisions. Others included Eva Minotto in U10 girls, Koen Stroock in U10 boys, Aspen Bennett-Manke in U12 girls, Jason Colby in U12 boys, Alexa Brabec in U14 girls, Niklas Malacinski in U16 boys, Esther DelliQuadri in senior women and Koby Vargas in senior men.
Jumping earlier in the day, few could match Belshaw.
She emerged as the highest-scoring special jumper in both the U16 girls class off the HS75 jump — unlike Nordic combined, there was ample competition in jumping — and off the HS100 in the senior women’s division.
The athletes will take flight one more time Sunday morning, off Steamboat’s biggest jump, the HS127, and there again, Belshaw expects to soar.
She wasn’t frightened when she started jumping on the Howelsen Hill Complex’s smallest hills at 8 years old, and she wasn’t frightened last year when she first tackled the HS127. That’s the best one, she said. A jumper gets the highest and flies the farthest.
“You get way higher in the air,” she said. “I like that. It’s just more fun.”
She plays other sports, and, as a freshman, is a member of the Steamboat Springs High School girls soccer team. Ski jumping, though, has proven special to her. She had to skip the Sailors’ first soccer game of the season Saturday to fly over her hometown, and when it comes to ski jumping, she has all the dreams a young Steamboat skier is supposed to have.
“I want to go to the Olympics,” she said. “That’s later, in awhile.”
She’s well on her way. She’s participated in the Women’s Ski Jumping USA’s Fly Girls camp and program, designed to recruit and train young female jumpers. She jumped well enough earlier this winter to earn a spot on the U.S. Nordic World Junior Championships team. Only one stipulation kept her from making the trip to Park City, Utah, to compete: She was a year too junior for the junior world championships.
She’ll be old enough next year, however, and she plans on jumping well enough again.
She plans to keep racing Nordic combined, too, to continue tackling those cross-country ski courses. That’s alright too, she said, but it’s nothing like jumping.
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