Year in Review: Top 15 sports stories of 2020 |

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.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

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.

America’s widening nature gap: Almost half of the U.S. did not go outside to recreate in 2018

Melanie Schoenberger guides her 3-year-old daughter Sarah Mae in the direction of her husband Jay who is waiting with open arms Friday morning at the base of the Steamboat Resort. The family was visiting from Denver and Sarah Mae was still in the learning process it was just her second day on skies.

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.

5 Steamboat Springs athletes make USA proud at Youth Olympic Games

From left, Erik Belshaw, Alexa Brabec, Niklas Malacinski and Tess Arnone pose in front of Howelsen Hill ahead of competing in the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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.

George and Clark qualify for second-ever Colorado girls wrestling state tournament

Steamboat Springs sophomore Adalia George wins an early season match at home. The Sailor is heading to the Colorado Girls State Wrestling Championships on Saturday, Feb. 8.

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.

‘Thank you’: Hayden’s Planansky wins state title with late coach in mind

Hayden senior Hunter Planansky won the 182-pound state championship at the Pepsi Center on Saturday, Feb. 22.

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.

‘There’s nothing he can’t do:’ Hayden’s Keenan Hayes wins at Junior National Finals Rodeo

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.”

All Colorado high school spring sports suspended due to COVID-19 concerns; USSA cancels future events

March 12 was the first of a string of days featuring cancellations and postponements of events. High school sports wouldn’t return for months.

Steamboat rafters return to a different world after 3-week raft trip

Steamboat Springs resident Patrick Keogh and his girlfriend Michelle Johnson recently returned from an 18-day rafting trip on the Grand Canyon. The world the returned to was not the same one they left nearly three weeks earlier.

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.”

Locals catch potential state-record setting northern pike at Stagecoach

Aided by Brady Wettlaufer of Steamboat Fishing Adventers, a pair of local anglers caught a potentially state-record breaking Northern Pike in Stagecoach Reservoir in early May.

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.

SSHS senior athletes honored with parade of cars (with video)

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.

With less official maintenance, area trails need more love from locals

Volunteers work on Rotary Trail during last weekend's Routt County Riders trail workday. The next workday is June 9 at Steamboat Ski Area.

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.

Break in the chain: Bike shops, manufacturers work to keep up with demand amid supply crisis

Ross Kirby, sales manager at Orange Peel, works on a bike on a busy Thursday. All bike shops have seen an increased demand for service and sales, but supply has taken a hit due to factories and warehouses closing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

Increase in recreation good for business but could be bad for the forest

Bucking Rainbow's fly fishing trips were fully booked during one of the business' best summers yet. Steamboat Springs sales tax collection saw a 67% increase in the sporting good category despite an overall decrease in collection, in June.

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.

It’s not just ski resorts that are white. That’s why the snow sports, outdoor industries seek to diversify

A crowd of people prepare to hit the trails outside of Thunderhead Lodge at Steamboat Resort.

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 at Steamboat Resort prohibited during operating hours, requires pass

Longtime Steamboat Springs resident Jamie Letson crests the top of Christie Peak Express at Steamboat Resort in March. Letson was one of hundreds of people who have found their own ways to ski and snowboard despite the resort's operations being closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (File Photo)

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.

New pickleball center moves forward to next steps

The new concept for the proposed Pickleball Center would run along Pine Grove Road, rather than Bangtail Way, as the previous rendering depicted.

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.

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