John F. Russell: March Madness hits slopes |

John F. Russell: March Madness hits slopes

The term “March Madness” usually is reserved for the basketball court.

But this month, Steamboat Springs could make the argument that March Madness reaches beyond the hardwood and onto the snow-covered slopes of the surrounding mountains.

Forget that many prep athletes at Steamboat Springs High School have already turned their attention to sports such as track, lacrosse and soccer. Everyone – or at least those who have lived here for any period of time – knows that March in Steamboat is all about skiing.

This month stresses that point.

Steamboat hosted the U.S. Telemark Nationals this weekend, and that’s just the start of a long line of skiing events that will close out the season. Next week, the 2007 Chevrolet Freestyle Junior Olympic Championships will take center stage. In the weeks that follow, Steamboat will host the Western Regional and U.S. National Championships for ski jumping and Nordic combined athletes.

Throw in a pair of FIS Rocky Mountain Trophy Series races and the Nature Valley NASTAR National Finals, and this will be the busiest month of the ski season in terms of major events.

I would like to say the chance to cover these events is almost better than traveling to Italy to cover the 2006 Winter Olympic Games – minus the exotic foreign setting, the great pizza (man, I love the pizza in Bardonecchia) and all the international attention.

OK, maybe it’s not better than covering the Winter Olympics, but this month is a perfect example of why so many Olympians call Steamboat Springs home.

Many of those athletes cut their teeth at events such as these. This is where they earned the right to compete for gold, silver and bronze on the world’s biggest stages.

These are important events that inspire athletes to reach for bigger and better things – and not just the ones who are skiing. It would be hard to grow up here and not be inspired by all the events taking place here this month.

So, maybe the rest of the country thinks of basketball when you utter the words “March Madness.”

But in a town where a large part of our population actually understands what’s happening in a Nordic combined sprint event, the words have a different meaning. Well, at least when we are not talking about office pools.

In this town, March Madness marks the last full month of the ski season, and one last chance to reach new heights on the ski slopes.

This month might be overwhelming for the organizers, volunteers and sports reporters who work these events. But when you consider that Steamboat’s Olympic future will be played out during five events during the next four weeks (plus NASTAR), this little bit of madness seems more sane than throwing $10 in an office pool hoping to pick the two best college basketball teams in the country.

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