What’s with the ski jumping? A visitor’s guide to Steamboat’s most unique Fourth of July event
Cross-country start list
Start position, name, start time3-kilometer race
1. Kathleen O’Connell, 0:00
1. Niklas Malacinski, 0:00
2. Evan Nichols, 0:06
3. Bennett Gamber, 0:20
4. Canden Wilkinson, 0:29
5. Gunnar Gilbertson, 0:42
6. Erik Belshaw, 0:53
7. Henry Johnstone, 1:05
8. Cooper Seliga, 3:01
1. Jasper Good, 0:00
2. Bryan Fletcher, 0:03
3. Adam Loomis, 0:08
4. Grant Andrews, 0:13
5. Nathaniel Mah, 0:15
6. Ben Berend, 0:15
7. Stephen Schumann, 0:19
8. Taylor Fletcher, 0:30
9. Brenden Andrews, 0:37
10. Adian Ripp, 0:41
11. Jared Shumate, 0:43
12. Tucker Hoefler, 0:47
13. Elijah Vargas, 1:05
14. Beckett Ledger, 1:11
15. Finn O’Connell, 2:03
1. Paris McMahon, 0:00
1. Alexa Brabec, 0:00
2. Aspen Bennet-Manke, 0:38
3. Tinsley Wilkinson, 1:23
4. Eva Minotto, 1:39
1. Thomas Miller, 0:00
2. Zach Selzman, 0:01
3. Maxim Glyvaka, 0:17
4. Wyatt Graves, 0:20
5. Owen Wither, 0:30
6. Kade Lawton, 0:41
7. Jason Colby, 0:45
8. Sawyer Graves, 0:53
The first moment is always one of amazement.
On Monday, softball players and mountain bikers and trail runners pulled up from their work and looked on as skiers flew from the ski jump on the side of Howelsen Hill.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” one wide-eyed Steamboat Springs visitor said Monday.
He’s far from alone.
Steamboat Springs’ Fourth of July festivities contain plenty of the traditions visitors are familiar with, from flags (everywhere) to parades (10 a.m. on Lincoln Avenue) to hot dogs (11 a.m. on corner of Eighth and Oak streets.)
There’s nothing more unique to Steamboat Springs than the annual Fourth of July ski jumping and Nordic combined competitions.
If it’s all Norwegian to you, we’ll help break it down.
So, what’s this sport?
Nordic combined is the combination of ski jumping and cross-country skiing.
It was born in Norway — hence the “Nordic” — more than 120 years ago, and it’s been a fixture in the Winter Olympics since 1924.
The “combined” comes from the fact competitors must compete in both ski jumping and cross-country skiing. Organizers have tinkered with the details of that combination plenty through the years, but the format these days is consistent — ski jumping first, then cross-country skiing.
How does it work?
First, athletes ski jump and get a score for that. The jumping score isn’t entirely based on distance, but that’s the biggest factor.
That happened on Monday.
Then, the ski jumping is translated into times for the cross-country ski race. As Steamboat’s decidedly short on snow in July, the athletes use roller skis, which are rollerblades that look like they were left in the kind of secret ooze that can turn an ordinary reptile into a ninja turtle.
The best jumper starts first, then other skiers start based on how close they came to matching that best jump. Someone who was very close will start a few seconds behind. Someone who tripped off the end of the jump and face-planted on the landing might start 20 minutes behind, if they make it back from the hospital in time, that is.
From there, the first person across the finish line wins.
Many World Cup and Olympic races are 10 kilometers. The top athletes in Steamboat will only be racing 3 kilometers. Younger athletes will participate in a one-kilometer running race.
The ski race starts at 9:15 a.m., and the athletes will make laps around Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat.
What should we watch for?
The athletes will start over a span of about two minutes, and they’ll likely quickly pull into small packs to work together, several athletes tucking behind a leader to draft and save energy.
“It’s similar to a bike race, so look for packs developing and working to chase down another skier who might be off the front,” said Todd Wilson, a two-time Olympian and now the head Nordic combined coach for Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
How athletes handle fatigue late in the race could decide the morning’s winner.
“Their balance starts to go away, and their technique starts to fail,” Wilson said.
Who should we watch for?
The day’s biggest threat may be starting back in the pack. Fletcher, a two-time Olympian and World Championship bronze medalist from Steamboat Springs, will start 30 seconds after the leader in the top classification.
Fletcher has been one of the fastest skiers on the World Cup circuit for the last five years, so even though he has elite competition in front of him, he’s capable of tracking them down. (We could say look for the tall skinny guy, but that doesn’t do much to narrow things down. Fletcher’s the tall skinny one with a beard.)
Good is another U.S. Ski Team member from Steamboat Springs. He had Monday’s best jump and will be the first to start. He’s a good all-around Nordic combined competitor so he has a chance to stay out front.
A World Cup winner, World Championship bronze medalist and 2014 Winter Olympian Bryan Fletcher has been the most consistent U.S. Ski Team competitor in recent seasons. He starts three seconds after Good. He has the best chance to be there to challenge his younger brother Taylor at the finish line.
Loomis is another good all-around skier. He’s starting third, eight seconds behind Good. If he can make up some time early in the race and get in a group with Bryan Fletcher and Good, he could be there for a sprint finish at the end.
What about the jumping?
The jumping portion of the Nordic combined race wrapped up Monday, but most of those athletes will be back to the slope at Howelsen Hill on the Fourth of July for more jumping competitions.
An elimination jump competition will start at noon.
There are scores of ski jumpers in town, and they’ll all be taking flight for this event. The line-up includes some young skiers from Nordic hot spots like Steamboat, Park City, Utah and Lake Placid, New York. It also includes a few from from other countries, like Canada and United Kingdom.
Members of the United States Women’s Ski Jumping Team are in town to compete, as are younger women aiming to join the club, now training in a camp called “Fly Girls.”
What should I be looking for?
The most important part of a good ski jump all happens before an athlete actually does the jumping. It takes athletes years to master the perfect technique for racing down the in-run — the white, plastic track skiers ride to the bottom of the jump.
It’s tough to critique a jumper’s form from the bottom of the hill, but things get easier once he or she is in the air.
“You’re looking for distance, for symmetrical body position and a nice, stable flight,” Bryan Fletcher said.
Waving of the arms or twisting of the body in the air is an early sign something is going awry.
Where can I watch from?
There will be a big crowd watching from the base of the jump. Feel free to hang out there, watch the jumpers come down and shop at some of the vendors set up in the landing field. Don’t be afraid to be more adventurous, though.
The public is allowed to climb up the bottom of the landing hill, and that offers an entirely different perspective.
“We encourage people not to watch the entire event from one spot,” Wilson said. “We’re allowing people up the hill to check it out and get up close and personal. It looks way different from up there than it does down in the flats.”
The easiest way up is to follow the jumpers and, when looking up at the hill, walk around the right side of the jumps, up and over the smaller jump, then up a bit further to the top of the landing hill for the largest jump.
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