Group planning an Olympic-sized welcome for athletes |

Group planning an Olympic-sized welcome for athletes

Group meets this week to discuss early April celebration

Johnny Spillane hits the tarmac Monday at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on his way home from the Olympics. Spillane’s carry-on luggage was a little heavier than when he left for Vancouver, British Columbia — thanks to three silver medals.
Courtesy Photo
Johnny Spillane hits the tarmac Monday at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on his way home from the Olympics. Spillane’s carry-on luggage was a little heavier than when he left for Vancouver, British Columbia — thanks to three silver medals.

— There is no shortage of ideas and enthusiasm for an early April event to welcome home Steamboat’s Winter Olympians.

A parade on Lincoln Avenue, a music concert and events at the base of Steamboat Ski Area, Howelsen Hill and the Routt County Courthouse lawn are among the ideas that city officials and civic leaders are considering for a communitywide celebration, likely in the first week of April.

On Wednesday morning, a planning group will hold its first meeting to begin hammering out details for welcome-home festivities after a Winter Olympics that was resoundingly successful for American athletes overall, and especially so for athletes from Steamboat Springs. The local celebration’s planning group includes Steamboat Springs City Manager Jon Roberts; Sandy Evans Hall, of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association; Tracy Barnett, of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs; Rick DeVos, of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club; and Andy Wirth, of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

Roberts said the group will grow as plans progress, and there will be plenty of opportunity for community involvement and volunteers.

“Whatever it will be, it will be something big, and it will be very inclusive,” Wirth said. “All kinds of different festivities are being kicked around. … I think a combination of events is what we’re going to see. Whatever is going to give the entire community its best access to the Olympians, to show them our pride and show them our goodwill.”

Wirth said the welcome-home events could be similar in scope to Steamboat’s Olympic send-off, a Feb. 5 event that preceded this year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, and drew thousands to Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat to support local athletes departing for the games.

No one knew then just how successful those athletes would be.

Nordic combined stars Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Billy Demong made history by winning the first U.S. medals in their sport and brought national attention to Nordic combined — and Steamboat — with incredible individual and team performances.

Members of the planning group said festivities will celebrate those accomplishments and the achievements of all of this year’s local Olympians.

“We obviously want to make this about the athletes and for the athletes, first,” DeVos said. “I love really celebrating all of the athletes that get a chance to go to the Olympics — I’d say that medal-winning is also another category up from that. … I’m hoping the final plan kind of spreads the activity around through the valley, so everybody can be involved in some piece of that.”

Wirth and Roberts said the first week of April is the earliest time that many of Steamboat’s Winter Olympians are able to participate in a local event because of busy schedules after the games.

But Roberts noted that the extra time could help with planning and allow for a possible expansion of the guest list. Roberts said he plans to invite dignitaries including Gov. Bill Ritter, U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, state Sen. Al White and state Rep. Randy Baumgardner. Roberts also said he plans to talk with the Steamboat Springs School District about the possibility of suspending school for a potential daytime event.

“That’s an experience I think (local youths) would carry with them for the rest of their lives,” Roberts said.

Barnett said she is hoping for an evening event, as well, to allow people to attend after work. If there’s a parade, Barnett said, she plans to try and sell remaining “noon whistles” to create a Steamboat serenade for the athletes.

“I’m hoping everybody will buy a whistle,” Barnett said. “I’m hoping downtown Lincoln Avenue will be packed with everybody who can possibly make it downtown to welcome the athletes back.”

Roberts, Wirth and Barnett all noted the positive exposure that the athletes gave to Steamboat by their conduct as well as their achievements.

“Not only were their results incredible, but how Todd and Johnny and Billy handled themselves … with such class and such presence, they made us all so very proud,” Wirth said. “Now it’s our turn as a community to show them our pride with these festivities.”

Roberts reiterated that public involvement will be crucial to a successful celebration.

“As soon as the venues are identified, we very much want to welcome as much community support as possible,” Roberts said. “Over the next week to 10 days, how volunteers can participate will be formulated.”

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