World Pro Ski Tour hits the slopes at Steamboat Resort Saturday | SteamboatToday.com

World Pro Ski Tour hits the slopes at Steamboat Resort on Saturday

Pro ski racer Kei Kullberg races to a fourth place finish at a World Pro Ski Tour race in Waterville, New Hampshire. (Photo by Photo by Lisa Mutz-Nelson)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Back in the early 1980s, athletes such as Steamboat Springs ski racer Lonny Vanatta helped fuel the excitement for the World Pro Ski Tour, which hosted professional ski races around the country.

"It's really a great format" said Vanatta, who retired from skiing in 1984 after collecting plenty of checks during his days as a professional Alpine ski racer. "It's fun to watch, and it's fun for the racers. I hope that they get some people out to watch this weekend."

On Saturday, pro ski racing will return to Steamboat for the first time in more than 20 years with a new generation of top skiers competing for prizes and money on the Sitz and See Me runs at the Steamboat Resort as part of the World Pro Ski Tour's Colorado Pro Cup.

If You Go

What: World Pro Ski Tour's Colorado Pro Cup
When: Qualifications, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
• Round of 32, 1 to 2 p.m.
• Alpine Bank Junior Wold Pro Ski Challenge, 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.
• Nathan & Zydeco Cha Cha’s, 3:30 to 5 p.m.
• Colorado Pro Cup Dual Slalom Event, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Where: Steamboat Resort, 2305 Mount Werner Circle

The main races will feature professional ski racers going head-to-head in a dual slalom format starting with a qualifying round at, 10 a.m., and ending with the finals that begin at 6 p.m. under the lights. There will be an awards ceremony in Gondola Square immediately following the event.

Between qualifying and the finals, the organizers will also host the Alpine Bank Junior World Pro Ski Challenge, an event that will draw 16 of the region's top junior racers who will go head-to-head on the course.

Vanatta said the dual slalom format, which starts with chute style gates, includes two pro-style jumps on a tight ski course and adds a little more excitement to ski racing.

"What motivated me to go fast was racing against someone else,” Vanatta said of his days on the pro tour. "You always knew where you stood in a ski race. You knew if you were ahead or behind, or if you were going to win or going to lose. I hated to lose."

The former pro ski racer said things are a little different these days, but he thinks the head-to-head excitement of pro racing has its place in the sport.

So did legendary ski coach Bob Beattie who started the World Pro Ski Tour in 1969 and watched it grow into a tour that interested professional racers who came out for the prize money.

While the original tour faded in 1982, the idea spawned several other tours that continued through 1998.

"Three years ago, Ed Rogers, one of the owners of the old tour, got it fired up again," said Jon Franklin, a board member for the World Pro Ski Tour. "This is the tour's third year, and we are thrilled that it's coming back to Steamboat this weekend. We have a host of national champions and Canadian national champions coming out to race with some guys from Europe. It's great to have pro racing back in Colorado, and especially back in Steamboat."

The old series provided a stage for stars like Vanatta, Billy Kidd, Hank Kashiwa, Vladimir "Spider" Sabich and French superstar Jean-Claude Killy. In the later years, Gale “Tiger” Shaw and Steve and Phil Mahre stepped in to try to save the spinoffs of the World Ski Tour. Despite their efforts, the tours came to an end.

This week, ski racing fans will have a chance to root for a new generation of stars, including Canadian Phil Brown, who is a World Champion silver medalist and winner of this year's Waterville Pro Tour race, and Nolan Kasper, who was named to the U.S. Olympic Team in 2010, 2014 and 2018. The field will also include Vail’s Alex Leever, Vermont’s Robby Kelley and Gabriel Rivas, from France.

Vanatta said he plans to head up the hill to watch the events, and while he knows it's not going to be the same, he is hopeful for the success of the tour.

"I will probably head out and check it out, just to see if maybe I should still be doing it," Vanatta said jokingly. "I hope that they can bring it back, and I wish them the best."

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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