Holiday Classic brings Alpine ski racing back to Steamboat Springs.
Ski racers from around the country and the world will arrive at Howelsen Hill early next week for one of the biggest Alpine ski racing events on the season in Steamboat Springs.
“We are thrilled about it,” said Adam Chadbourne, who is the Alpine Director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. “It’s gong to be wonderful to race on our home hill under great conditions with Incredible athletes from around the country, Canada and a number of foreign nations. We are excited to be able to show off our venue, which is world class.”
The Holiday Classic has been a tradition in our mountain valley for nearly 30 years, but former Alpine Director, Chris Puckett said changes to the event 15 years ago has helped it grow into one of the most popular FIS races in the country.
“These used to be regular introductory FIS races.” Puckett said. “It was kind of regional and drew mostly college and club kids who were looking for a racing opportunity around the holidays.”
But Puckett has a different vision of what the races could be. It was a vision that came from his years of traveling around Europe and seeing the way small towns there embraced ski racing. Many of those towns were smaller that Steamboat, and would never dream of hosting a World Cup or even NorAm level ski race. Yet those towns opened their doors to FIS events turning them into a main attraction that featured a festive atmosphere.
Puckett, a former US Ski Team member who had taken a position as Alpine Director with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, went to work finding local businesses to support the event, he asked local merchants to put up tents at the base of Howelsen during the races and started offering prize money as an incentive to elite ski racers to come to Steamboat for a few days.
“The first few years we (Puckett and fellow longtime ski racing supporter David Balldinger, Jr.) had to put up the money ourselves,” Puckett recalled.
But the efforts paid off as the field of racers that came to Steamboat Springs got better and better. Over the years the events have drawn skiers like Jake Fiala, David Chodounsky, Andrew Weibrecht and Mark Engels. It has also provided a place to race for hometown favorites including Anna Marno, Hig Roberts, David Lamb and Drew Roberts.
A few years back the event started holding races under the lights, and Puckett said the event has become one of the most popular FIS events in the country. The success has also resulted in new sponsors who help cover the prize money, a champions dinner and other awards and costs associated with hosting the races,
“I think this event has gown into what I thought it would be,” Puckett said of the race becoming what he had hoped for all those years ago. “It’s a pretty cool event, and it offers local ski racers a top-level event that brings the excitement of ski racing back to Howelsen Hill.”
Puckett said that in his world,fans would be stacked around the finish area ringing cowbells for the Steamboat Springs skiers so loud that it could be heard across town.
This year’s Holiday Classic will begin with a slalom race for juniors at 9 a.m. Monday The women will step into the starting gate first, followed by the men at 10 a.m. The skiers will be back in the gates Monday afternoon. The same schedule will be followed for Wednesday’s races.
On Tuesday ski racers will be racing for a $1,000 prize in both the men’s and women’s slalom races. Those events will start in the afternoon with the women starting the first run at 1:45 p.m. and the men racing at 2:45 p.m. The second runs will take place under the lights with the women’s main event beginning at 5:30 p.m. and the men expected to start at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night’s race is expected to be the biggest since it is the only one over the week that is offering prize money,The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club will be represented by nine girls, and ten boys in the field that could include 140 men, and 140 women. The number of racers from Steamboat Springs will also include former members of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club who are now racing at college programs, national teams or other racing programs who are looking for a chance to win some money.
Chadbourne said the start times are approximate and that weather, course issues and other factors may push start times back. However, he said the atmosphere at the base will be festive with Gluehwein (hot spiced wine) for those over the age of 21, fire pits to stay warm while those who come out can celebrate one of Steamboat’s longest running Alpine skiing traditions.
While the Holiday Classic is one of the biggest Alpine events of the season in Steamboat Springs it is far from being the only. Chadbourne said their will be lots of USSA racing this winter, and this March the slopes of Howelsen an the Stemabaot Ski Area will play host to the Rocky/Central U14 Junior Championships, which will bring the top ski racers under the age of 14 to Steamboat Springs for a week of ski racing. Those events will take place March 16-20.
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The National Weather Service in Grand Junction has issued a winter storm warning for much of the West Slope ahead of a major weather system expected in the area starting Thursday.