Ski and snowboard pioneers to be inducted into U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame
Steamboat Springs — The pride of Steamboat Springs — or at least some of it — took to a small stage in Bear River Bar and Grill Friday, Olympians Johnny Spillane, Nelson Carmichael, Caroline Lalive Carmichael and Todd Wilson were joined by Penny Fletcher, mother to two Olympians, to speak about how a small city in Northwest Colorado came to produce athletes like themselves.
Some, like Spillane, were born in the city and first learned to ski on the slopes that surrounded it.
But, Steamboat Springs didn’t become the world-leading producer of Winter Olympians simply from its own supply of young skiers. It’s long been a rallying point for talented skiers from elsewhere hoping to take the next step.
“My family handpicked Steamboat Springs,” said Lalive Carmichael, a three-time Olympian and native Californian who now coaches the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Alpine program. “My parents wanted to find a good community, and schools were really important. They wanted to find a place we could be together, and Steamboat fit the bill perfectly.”
This weekend, the city is welcoming a flock of skiers and they have something more in common with Lalive Carmichael than simply the ability to carve a turn.
Like her, they’re among the world’s best, and like her, they were pulled to Steamboat Springs by its proud skiing heritage.
That heritage helped draw the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame to Steamboat Springs for its annual induction ceremony, and Saturday night at the Steamboat Grand at the base of Steamboat Ski Area, 10 of the finest skiers, snowboarders and winter sports innovators the nation has known will be inducted into the elite group.
This year’s list of inductees includes a wide variety who helped widen the sport to include everything from new athletes to new slopes.
— Jeannie Thoren helped expand skiing for women. Women could ski before she came along, of course, but she designed equipment that better suited them, considering their smaller foot size and lower center of gravity.
— Bob Smith helped ensure men and women already skiing were enjoying themselves thanks to the goggles he patented that came with breathable-vent foam around the edges. He founded Smith Optics, then and now one of the first names in goggles. Smith died in 2012 at 78.
— Ross Powers was one of the country’s first great Olympic snowboarders. He earned a bronze medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics, then outdid himself, taking gold in Salt Lake City in 2002.
— Ralph Miller was one of the country’s best skiers in the 1950s, back when being a competitive skier didn’t mean choosing a discipline to focus on. Then, it meant finding a way to focus on four — downhill, slalom, jumping and cross country skiing. He set the world speed skiing record at 109.75 miles per hour in 1955, and it stood until 1970.
— Chris Davenport is at the other end of the spectrum, but with the same thread of wild excitement in his achievements. He established himself as perhaps the greatest big mountain skier in the world, not just for his podium performances in events, but for ticking off jaw-dropping accomplishments that have included skiing all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks and skiing the Lhotse face of Mount Everest.
— Joe Cushing helped people get to the slopes, leading the way in designing ski areas throughout his long career. He worked on more than 400 projects, including many throughout the United States and in Colorado, such as Copper Mountain and Keystone, and Deer Valley in Utah.
— Curt Chase helped train up those skiers once they were on the slopes, and he started with the the 10th Mountain Division in World War II, training the unit in survival skills in 1943. He later moved to Aspen and became a ski instructing legend, leading ski schools there for 22 years and helping found the Professional Ski Instructors of America. He died in June at 91.
— John McMurtry, meanwhile, followed his own skiing career with a long stint coaching with the U.S. Ski Team. Among his accomplishments there was helping guide Steamboat Springs’ Deb Armstrong to gold in the 1984 Winter Olympics. He also helped develop the structure for the United States Ski and Snowboard Association’s regional development program, which still today funnels skiers from around the country onto the U.S. Ski Team.
— Erik Schlopy will enter the hall as one of the top Alpine racers of his generation, his career highlighted by a third-place finish at the World Championships and a wildly successful stint on the World Pro Skiing circuit in the late 1990s. The New York native is a three-time Olympian who made six World Championship teams from 1993 to 2007. His absurdly long, successful career stretched 18 years.
— Kristina Koznick, a product of the elite slalom skiing factory in Buck Hill, Minnesota, established herself as one of the world’s best slalom skiers during her career in the 1990s through the early 2000s. She twice finished second in the race in the season-long FIS World Cup slalom title, in 1998 and 2002, and won the U.S. national slalom title five times, with three second-place finishes on top of that. She won six World Cup slalom races and was on the podium 20 times.
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