Winter Start competition marks beginning of Nordic combined, ski jumping season | SteamboatToday.com

Winter Start competition marks beginning of Nordic combined, ski jumping season

Park City’s Michael Ward, who spent four years training in Steamboat Springs, raises his arms in triumph after being the first to cross the finish line to win the senior men’s division of the Winter Start Nordic combined event at Howelsen Hill a number of years ago. (File photo by Austin Colbert)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Athletes from all over the country will kick off their Nordic combined and ski jumping seasons Saturday, Dec. 1, in the Winter Start competition at Howelsen Hill. The stakes are high as the event is designated as a U.S. Cup opener and the first of three World Junior Team tryouts.

"For us to compete at home for the first competition is huge,” said Todd Wilson, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s ski jumping and Nordic combined director. “The fact that we have it here is a real benefit for us.”

How to help

The upcoming FIS Continental Cup on Dec. 14 to 19 is in need of volunteers for jump and cross country courses at Howelsen Hill. A list of available positions can be found at sswsc.org/volunteer.

The conditions could not be better. Wilson said SSWSC athletes have been jumping since Nov. 14.

"I don't know if it's ever looked this good this time of year, ever," Wilson said. "It sure beats last year. We've had an incredible snowmaking year this year, and the city is working really hard."

Steamboat Springs is one of two hosts in the country for the U.S. World Junior Team tryouts. Athletes will compete here then travel to Lake Placid, New York, for two more competitions on New Year’s weekend to earn their place on the team.

There are up to five spots available in each discipline on the U.S. World Junior Team.

Last year, Steamboat had four athletes make junior teams. Decker Dean was named to the men's ski jumping team, and Logan Sankey and Annika Belshaw earned spots on the women's ski jumping team. Tess Arnone was on the women's Nordic combined team.

All four athletes competed in the 2018 Junior World Championships for ski jumping and Nordic combined in Kandersteg, Switzerland, last winter.

Wilson said SSWSC athlete Bennett Gamber will be one of the top Nordic combined athletes to watch out for in the U18 division.

Dean has also since qualified for the U.S. Ski Team with two podium finishes at senior nationals this summer.

With Steamboat slated to host the Continental Cup on Dec. 14 to 19, Wilson is hoping to take advantage of the spots available for competition on the international stage.

"This event this weekend is also a qualifier for the Continental Cup," Wilson said. "We'll be deciding who gets to start, and being the home country, we get the most spots."

According to U.S. Ski and Snowboard's criteria, placing in the top five of a Continental Cup competition could also earn an athlete a spot on the U.S. Junior World Championship Team.

Winter Start takes place Saturday with ski jumping at the HS100 and HS75 hills from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The 5-kilometer cross country races for U16 and U18 run from 5 to 5:30 p.m. and the 10-kilometer race for U20 and seniors runs from 5:30 to 6 p.m. Awards will be presented at 6:30 p.m. at Howelsen Hill’s awards podium.

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

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