Year in Review: Top 15 sports stories of 2020
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When all was “normal” in the early months of 2020, Routt County athletes were racking up achievements, highlighted by state titles, national trophies and Olympic debuts.
Then, everything changed. Sports stalled out March 12 and sat on the edge of the abandoned highway that is normal life for months.
We couldn’t distract ourselves from negative news with an NBA game. Even local prep sports and skiing national championships were cut short, and athletes were told to go home.
As the world plunged into the thick of the pandemic, we found ways to honor the athletes who could no longer compete whether it was with virtual national events, parades or simply letting them talk about being sad.
It was easy to feel guilty about mourning a senior soccer season when others were losing jobs and family members, but two things can be sad at the same time. We know athletics aren’t essential, but in 2020, we learned just how much they mean to us.
Through the summer, we saw flaws pertaining to trails and public lands and fought to fix those issues. We saw dramatic supply and demand trends and watched as sporting good stores thrived while overall tax revenue declined.
Even in a year in which sports were pushed to the back burner, Steamboat Springs proved to be more passionate about the outdoors than ever, finding ways to get out and support each other, our public lands and facilities.
These are the top 15 sports stories that shaped Steamboat Springs the most in 2020.
The Outdoor Foundation’s Outdoor Participation Report, published Jan. 29, showed that nearly half of Americans did not go outside to recreate at all in 2018. Furthermore, people went on 1 billion fewer outings in 2018 compared to in 2008.
Steamboat Springs Nordic combined skiers Tess Arnone and Alexa Brabec competed in the Olympic debut of women’s Nordic combined at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland. Niklas Malacinski took fifth in men’s Nordic combined, while Erik and Annika Belshaw represented the USA in ski jumping.
The athletes took very different paths to reach the state tournament, but both had to navigate similar terrain, rutted by gender norms and social stigmas, all while gaining praise and support from their coaches, teammates and community.
Hayden High School senior Hunter Planansky got his hair cut today. His dark curls were already in a mullet, but the sides were freshly shaven, exaggerating the look.
“Coach (Chad) Jones wanted me to get this hair cut, but with stripes on the side, my sophomore (year) for state, but my mom said no,” Planansky said. “So, we went to the barber today, and I got it anyways.”
Planansky went on to win the state wrestling championship in honor of his late coach.
Keenan Hayes may not agree, but he’s one of, if not the best, young bareback riders in the nation.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Hayes said. “I mean, I think I’m up there, for sure. I have a lot of buddies that I compete against, and we just push each other to be better. It’s just whoever is better that weekend, whoever draws best.”
March 12 was the first of a string of days featuring cancellations and postponements of events. High school sports wouldn’t return for months.
When Steamboat Springs residents Patrick Keogh and Michelle Johnson concluded an 18-day rafting trip in the Grand Canyon, they emerged to discover an unfamiliar world.
“That’s always a joke on the Grand Canyon. I did a trip in November 2018. There was some conflict in the world, talking about nuclear weapons across the world,” Keogh said. “You always joke, what if things are different? What if we come out, and there’s a nuclear war going on? This time it was actually true.”
On a Friday in early May, three grown men stood in a boat along the south side of Stagecoach Reservoir crying.
Brady Wettlaufer of Steamboat Fishing Adventures had just helped a pair of local young men, who wish to remain anonymous, catch a massive fish that he had seen in the reservoir for years. The trio worked tirelessly for half an hour, reeling in a Northern pike that was 48 inches long and weighed 38 pounds, large enough to become the new state record holder.
Senior athletes at Steamboat Springs High School were honored with a parade of cars May 15. Each team took a different route, passing by each senior’s home before swinging by the high school and concluding at the Knoll Lot.
Steamboat Springs is surrounded by public land. Every weekend, particularly in the warmer months, locals and visitors take to trails owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the city of Steamboat Springs. The trail systems are packed these days as the late-spring weather pulls people out of the homes they’ve been self-isolating in for three months.
Right as the clock hits 10 a.m., opening time, the phone rings at Orange Peel. The shrill tone comes from two separate phones that aren’t quite synced, giving the illusion of multiple calls coming in and adding to the sense of stress.
The phone rings four times in the next seven minutes.
Meanwhile, three people walk their bikes to the open door with questions about quick fixes. There’s really no such thing as a quick fix these days.
An increase of recreation proved to be a double-edged sword in Steamboat Springs.
Stores have reaped the benefit and recorded a historic summer of sales. However, the nearby Routt National Forest has suffered a bit of abuse from the rising number of recreators.
Ski resorts are white. Even the people who visit and work there are predominately white.
According to data from the National Ski Areas Association, 88.2% of visitors to ski areas during the 2019-20 season were white, while just 1.8% were Black. That’s a huge gap between participation and the actual population of Blacks in the U.S., which is estimated to be 13.4%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Uphill access was a drama-filled topic after Steamboat Resort closed in March and did not allow people to skin or hike up the empty slopes. Ahead of the 2020-21 season, the resort announced uphill travel will not be allowed during operating hours. Additionally, an armband, which permits uphill use, will now cost $20 for the season, even for season pass holders and employees.
The agreement regarding the management of the Steamboat Tennis and Pickleball Center between the city of Steamboat Springs and the new nonprofit Court Sports 4 Life was approved at the Nov. 10 Steamboat Springs City Council meeting.
The agreement lays out new terms of managing and operating the existing and planned structures on the land, which the city owns. Approval allows Court Sports 4 Life, the nonprofit taking over responsibility of the property, to move forward with the fundraising needed to build the planned pickleball center.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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