Historic Holiday Classic attracts Alpine skiers with cash prizes | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat’s Historic Holiday Classic attracts top Alpine skiers with cash prizes

University of Denver and U.S. Ski Team racer Jett Seymour cuts down Howelsen Hill last winter during the Holiday Classic in Steamboat Springs last year. (Photo by Joel Reichenberger)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s annual Murphy Roberts Holiday Classic Alpine ski race puts more on the line besides first- and second-place medals.

The competition, slated for Thursday, Dec. 20, to Saturday, Dec. 22, will host top collegiate and International Ski Federation athletes to compete for a large purse.

SSWSC has partnered with the T2 Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports ski and snowboard athletes, to put together $16,000 in prize money. First-place winners will take home $2,000, second place $1,000, third place $500 and fourth and fifth places $125. The top U19 finisher will receive $250.

In addition, the Murphy Roberts Holiday Classic Scholarship Award of $1,000 will be given to the athlete who best demonstrates a passion for Alpine ski racing through teamwork and enthusiasm.

“Money helps to draw good athletes, and points help our athletes because they score their own points against these people,” current SSWSC Alpine director Adam Chadbourne said. “The young kids really have to take it up a notch.”

Schedule of events

National Junior Race, Thursday, Dec. 20
Women, 9 a.m., second start, 12:15 p.m.
Men, 10:15 a.m., second start, 1:45 p.m.
Night FIS Race, Friday, Dec. 21
Women, 1:15 p.m., second run, 5:20 p.m.
Men, 2:30 p.m., second run, 6:40 p.m.
FIS Race, Saturday, Dec. 22
Women, 9 a.m., second run, 12:15 p.m.
Men, 10:15 a.m., second run, 1:45 p.m.

The Holiday Classic is in its 17th year. It originally started in 2001 as the Steamboat Holiday Grand Prix, offering $250 as a cash prize for the winners.

The idea came from former SSWSC Alpine director Chris Puckett, who had traveled the world as a professional skier.

“What I saw when I was racing World Cup was if we wanted something to do, we would go to a FIS race,” Puckett said. “It’s a grassroots level of international racing, but anyone can enter those races. It would be that village’s biggest race of the year. It was a celebration of their town and their club and they gave out great prizes and big trophies.

“I felt like our town has such a strong ski history, yet we weren’t doing that,” Puckett added.

Puckett ran the idea of a cash prize event by the club then had it approved by the U.S. Ski Team. The only year the race hasn’t offered prize money was December 2003.

Puckett had hoped it would start a trend of more ski races in the area offering money, but not every club has the funding necessary to do so and sponsorships are desperately needed to make the prizes worth racing for.

Howelsen Hill’s steep terrain also provides the perfect surface for racers who want to test their limits, and people tend to race harder when the prize is more than a medal.

“That’s why races in the pro tour were so fun to watch in the ’70s,” Puckett said. “Howelsen has this great venue when you can see most of the course from the bottom and people going as hard as they can.”

Puckett was able to get paid for his 10-year career as a racer, but he knew kids who struggled financially but wanted to make the national team. Opportunities like competing in the Holiday Classic would have helped.

The incentive also pushes athletes to test their limits, which can jump start an incredible season of racing.

Nolan Kasper and Megan McJames won the overall titles at the Holiday Classic in 2009 and both advanced to the World Cup and made the Olympic teams in 2010.

“Sometimes winning this race, even though it’s the lowest level, can actually help their season, because it’s nerve wracking,” Puckett said.

There will be 140 men and 110 women competing in three days of competition — 47 of the athletes will be from the SSWSC. The juniors, competitors younger than 21, will compete on Thursday, while the open FIS competitors will compete Friday and Saturday.

Competitors will race through the course twice, and a combined time will determine the day’s winner. Friday’s competition will take place under the lights.

“The Holiday Classic has a very strong history known throughout the country,” Chadbourne said. “The night race in particular gets a lot of attention. It’s a ton of fun under the lights and on an iconic hill.”

To reach Leah Vann, call 970-871-4253, email lvann@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @LVann_Sports.

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