Spillane, Poppen to be inducted into US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame

U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team member Johnny Spillane races out of the start area of the 10-kilometer race in Thursday's individual large hill competition at Whistler Olympic Park. Spillane raced to silver in the event, and teammate Billy Demong brought home the gold.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs native Johnny Spillane paved the way for American Nordic Combined athletes. He was the first American to win an Olympic medal in Nordic combined when he earned silver on the normal hill in 2010 in Vancouver. By the closing ceremony, Spillane had three silver medals hanging around his neck. 

His accomplishments in the sport earned him a spot in the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2014, and last week, it was announced he will be inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2019. 

“It’s obviously an honor to be recognized amongst the other skiers in that group,” Spillane said. “I was excited.”

He will be one of 440 total members in the Hall of Fame and one of just eight Nordic combined athletes.

Spillane grew up jumping on Howelsen Hill, as he was born and raised in Steamboat. He was named to the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team ahead of 1998 games in Japan but didn’t compete in any events. He attended the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, taking 32nd in both the sprint and individual events. Four years later, he traveled to the Olympics in Turin, Italy, finishing 30th in the individual and 10th in the sprint.

In 2003, Spillane made history. At the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Italy, he earned victory in the 7.5K sprint, becoming the first American athlete to win gold at that level. 

At the 2010 Winter Games, he helped the team take second before earning another silver medal in the 10K large hill, finishing behind teammate Bill Demong.

The members of the silver-medal winning U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, shown celebrating Feb. 23 during the flower ceremony at Whistler Olympic Park in Whistler, British Columbia, will go abroad to meet with U.S. troops next month. From left: Brett Camerota, Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane and Billy Demong.
John F. Russell/file

“It was definitely a group effort, I just happened to be the one to get the results first,” Spillane said of his success. “After I won world championships, Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick also became world champions. It was just fun to be a part of. We had a great group of guys that all worked together as a team, in really, an individual sport.”

In March 2020, Spillane will be officially inducted at a ceremony in Sun Valley, Idaho, a resort he said he’s never been to.

“I’ve done very little skiing domestically,” Spillane said with a laugh.

Now, his main tie to Nordic combined is commentating for NBC, a gig that brought him to Pyeongchang in 2018. He’ll man the mic again for the World Cup in November.

While Spillane still skis with his three children, he said he no longer jumps and doesn’t think back to the Olympics that often.

“I’ve kind of moved on to a new chapter of my life,” Spillane said. “It’s fun to watch the new guys train to do the same thing.”

His new chapter is filled with fly-fishing, since purchasing Steamboat Flyfisher in 2013. He traveled to Argentina in November 2018 to experience some of the best brown trout fishing in the world. He was so impressed, he said he’s returning next April, but this time, bringing clients with him.

In addition to Spillane, the Hall of Fame Class of 2019 consists of freestyle skier Scotty Brooksbank, American ski champion and mountaineer Kit DesLauriers, co-founders of the Brotherhood of Skiers Arthur Clay and Benjamin Finley, as well as ski film creator Greg Stump and Jim Niehues, who has hand-painted hundreds resort maps.

Sherman Poppen, who recently passed away, is also part of the Class of 2019. Poppen invented the Snurfer, an early version of the snowboard, in Muskegon, Michigan, eventually moving to Steamboat Springs. 

“That’s fantastic,” said Julie, Poppen’s youngest daughter. “He knew he was on the list, so that’s pretty cool. It’s amazing.”

Sherman Poppen, inventor of the Snurfer, laughs when asked about his role in the development of snowboarding.
John F. Russell

The Tread of Pioneers Museum has a small display of some original Snurfers. The Colorado Snowsports Museum and Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian Institution are also home to a few Snurfers, documenting the history of snowboarding.

“I just wish he was alive to know that he got this,” said Wendy, Poppen’s oldest daughter. “I’m happy. I’ve always been proud of him. This is another feather in his cap.”

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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