John F. Russell: Olympians need more than snow |

John F. Russell: Olympians need more than snow

Remember the days when freestyle skiers in the Rocky Mountain Division needed snow to practice their sport?

Not any more.

Thanks to places such as Steamboat Springs and the Keystone Resort, the white stuff is an added bonus for most top skiers. The town and resort have taken steps to ensure that snow is not a requirement to learn the skills necessary to perform a dinner roll, a cork 720 or any other new-school trick.

These days those tricks can be learned in the warmth of June, July and August on plastic-covered, manmade ramps and watery landing areas.

Steamboat officially opened a water ramp earlier this summer — which allowed some of the top skiers in the region, and the world, to stay in Colorado and hone their skills in a community that has always embraced the sport.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, the Summit County Board of Commissioners approved a new project that will transform a dormant tennis center in Keystone into one of the top training facilities in the country. The facility has a few hoops to get through, because it’s being opposed by a small group of homeowners who want it located somewhere else. But it has been approved and is expected to include a water ramp, indoor and outdoor tramps, and a strength-conditioning center. There also may be a skateboard park or a BMX track.

Rick DeVos, the executive director of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, is happy to see the new facility at Keystone moving forward and said he feels that both facilities will play a key role in the future of the sport not only in the division, but in the country.

Both facilities are banking that freestyle skiing, and the demand for better training facilities, will attract skiers to their resorts and clubs in the winter and in the summer.

But the impact of these two water ramps will reach far beyond the city limits of Steamboat and the boundaries of the Keystone Resort.

It means that American skiers will continue to advance their sport even when temperatures are hot and that these facilities will become the birthplaces for a new breed of Olympians — athletes who must train on a year-round basis if they want to stay competitive in the quickly evolving world of winter sports.

Freestyle always has been a huge part of the skiing community in Steamboat Springs, and summer training is nothing new in a town that has produced two Olympic medalists in the past decade.

The addition of water ramps in Steamboat and at Keystone only will add to the number of Olympic medals the state of Colorado will collect in the future.

The truth is that to be an Olympic contender these skiers need more than snow.

They need a community to support them, state of the art facilities that will boost them to the next level and the desire to follow their dreams to the top of the podium.

These things can be found in the Colorado Rockies.

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