Steamboat Olympian Deb Armstrong adds name to list of athletes critical of USOC
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Olympic gold medalist Deb Armstrong is proud to be one of the athletes calling for the resignation of members of the United States Olympic Committee and senior leadership in the wake of the release of a report investigating Larry Nassar's abuse.
"Nassar is a symptom of something, and that symptom was cancerous and was the absolute worst case scenario, but that cancer was allowed to grow," said Armstrong, a Steamboat Springs resident and the women’s giant slalom gold medalist at the 1984 Olympics.
She is one of many Olympic athletes who make up the Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOC, which, according to a story published by Inside The Games, urged the resignations of several USOC board members following the release of the Ropes & Gray report that chronicles the factors underlying Nassar's abuse.
Armstrong said it's important to not marginalize or compartmentalize what happened with Nassar, who was at the center of the USA Gymnastics’ sex abuse scandal and accused of molesting more than 250 young women and one young man going back as far as 1992. Nassar, the former doctor for the national gymnastics team and orthopedic physician at Michigan State University, pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison.
Armstrong said she believes Nassar’s actions are a sign of a bigger problem that is driven by the abuse of power that is often protected by those in charge. She feels the time for change is at hand, but that's not what has happened in the wake of the report, which claims both the USOC and USA Gymnastics failed to act when allegations against Nassar emerged.
The report also stated that USOC Chief Executive Scott Blackmun and Chief of Sports Performance Alan Ashley were aware of the accusations more than a year before they became public. Ashley was fired after the release of the document, and Blackmun resigned shortly after the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, citing health issues.
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who won three gold medals and a silver in swimming in 1984, helped form the Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOC and is critical of the recent appointment of Rich Bender and the reappointment of Steve Mesler to the USOC board.
The committee said the men defended the status quo and the Athletes Advisory Council was not consulted before the appointments were made. The group does support the appointments of Brad Snyder and Beth Brooke-Marciniak to the board.
"I know Nancy as an Olympian and also as an advocate for women in sports," Armstrong said. "It was Nancy who reached out to me because she knows how vocal I've been … I support the causes of athletes, equality and do a lot around gender in sports."
Armstrong also shares Hogshead-Makar's views that athletes, both men and women, need to be more involved in the appointments of USOC board members.
"It all comes down to power," Armstrong said. "This Nassar thing had to do with power. It was this powerful man who had a powerful reputation, and over time, he leveraged that power in monstrous ways, and he was caught. There were people who were less powerful — these minors, these athletes — that when they would raise a qualm, their voice did not carry the same weight.
“I think bottom line right now, with what's happening with sports and what's happening with movements in our country in general, these are all questions about power,” she said.
Armstrong, who has been involved with sports her entire life and was on the U.S. Ski Team from 1982 to 1988, said she would like to see a change of structure that would look out for the interests of athletes and give them a voice.
"If you are not careful, power becomes corrupt … often, the people who speak out to these things get in trouble for it," Armstrong said.
The Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOC also includes 18-time Grand Slam tennis champion Martina Navratilova and four-time Olympic diving gold medalist Greg Louganis.
Happy trails: Tim Fletcher’s fight with ALS leaves Olympic sons inspired
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Taylor Fletcher had two years to think about what he wanted to say in his final conversation with his father, and he thought a little more about it last week as he sat atop a mountain high in the eastern Alps at Tromeja, or "the Three Borders," one of his favorite spots in Europe.
Italy, Austria and Slovenia, where he was training with the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, come together there at the top of a small ski resort, and Fletcher tried to relax in the still-green grass.
Sheer, gray mountains rose from pristine meadows below him, and he took a moment. It was a place he knew his dad Tim Fletcher, resting at home in Steamboat Springs, would love, and he snapped and sent a photo from his cell phone.
Taylor made a point of sending photos of places like Tromeja to his dad ever since Tim was diagnosed in 2016 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — ALS — a disease with only a timeline not a cure.
There have been so many hard days since the diagnosis, good days, too, but hard conversations and somber realizations.
Forty-five minutes passed in the high-mountain cathedral before Taylor rose and traced the trail back from the edge of Italy and Austria and into Slovenia, back to the small town of Rateče where he and his teammates were bunked up in a white three-story house in the village center.
Moments after returning, he got a call from his brother, Bryan Fletcher, who was at his home in Utah but in constant communication with those gathered around their father's bed in Steamboat Springs. Taylor needed to call home. The time had come.
The brothers had been preparing, and they were ready for that last conversation.
Days later, digging through their father's possessions, they discovered a journal Tim had started keeping in the months after his diagnosis, up until the point he could no longer manage the pen. It wasn't long, and it wasn't thorough, but it was deep.
He'd been preparing, too.
To the ends of the Earth
Tim Fletcher rolled into Steamboat Springs in 1977 in the midst of a cross-country trip, from his East Coast upbringing to whatever else he could find.
He found Steamboat. It wasn't where he was supposed to stay, but it's where he did stay — a story familiar to so many who stumble across the Western Colorado ski town. Soon, he was living the dream of many of those wanderers, landing a job with ski patrol in the winters and working construction through the summers to make it all possible.
He lived it for more than 40 years, until he died Sept. 25. He was 63 years old.
He kept living it nearly until the last day, watching his boys compete, riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle and skiing the best powder days.
"I want to explore," he wrote in his journal on Feb. 19, 2017. "I want to ride all summer!"
He logged 10,000 miles on his Harley that season. He had hoped to get more in the summer of 2018, and even though his disease had taken a tremendous amount from him by that point, he pulled out his tools and installed a new easy-pull clutch on his bike last spring.
He never hesitated from one primary goal, watching his sons compete on some of the biggest stages in international skiing.
With Michelle Schiau at his side, ever lending a helping hand, he traveled to the 2017 Nordic Ski World Championships in Finland. More recently, he and Michelle made the trip to PyeongChang, South Korea, for the 2018 Winter Olympics — the third that featured at least one of his sons and the second that featured them both.
He never got the chance to try that Harley clutch out on the highway, but he still didn’t stop. Bryan retired from Nordic combined after the 2017-18 season, but Taylor continued on, and Tim made it out to Howelsen Hill in Steamboat to watch Taylor compete in the annual Fourth of July Ski Jumping Extravaganza.
That was supposed to be the last time he saw one of his sons compete. The family had decided he wouldn't make it to the U.S. Nordic Combined National Championships later in July in Park City, Utah. Tim came anyway, throwing a bag in his white Chevy Silverado and setting out for the six-hour drive with Michelle.
Saying it all
In Slovenia, Taylor first took the call from Bryan, then he took 15 minutes.
He'd thought about what to say, what to tell his dad if he got the chance for a final conversation, especially two weeks ago, when Tim's health took a sharp turn after months of slow but steady decline.
Still, staring the final call in the face, he took 15 last minutes, not to write a script — his dad would have scoffed at something that formal — but to organize his thoughts.
Then he called.
Both brothers had made the most of their moments.
Tim went to great lengths to travel the world to watch their competitions, and they made every effort to see him when they could reciprocate. He spent most of his final two weeks in Utah with Bryan and his family — wife, Nikki, and 2-year-old daughter Ellery.
Tim's brother Don Fletcher visited, and Taylor was there, too, for much of the time until he left for the U.S. team camp in Slovenia.
It was a place Tim loved, filled with people he loved.
"Ellery Ardene Fletcher is the thing right now that gives me hope and drive to live for a long time, to watch her grow and develop," he wrote in an undated journal entry. "To have your baby have a baby grabs your heart like nothing has before."
Bryan had to say goodbye more than once.
Tim ended up in the hospital after his trip to the Olympics, stricken with two different strains of the flu. The family prepared, but Tim soon grew stronger and was skiing again before the end of the 2017-18 season.
"He wasn't as good as he had been, but we had to pry open his boots with a blow dryer to get him into them because he was still skiing in almost a World Cup-stiffness boot," Taylor said. "He was still passing people."
"We skied every run he wanted to, all of his favorites — Rainbow, Vertigo, Heavenly Daze," Bryan said.
But there was no mistaking what was happening late in September. Tim was still largely self-sufficient until the end of the second week, when he needed to make the return trip to Steamboat. He started growing weaker, and by the time he had returned home, it was clear there wouldn't be a bounce back.
Bryan, working as a certified nursing assistant as he completes a medical degree at Utah State University, was in touch throughout the final days, and he called one final time Tuesday.
Tim was too weak to text, but Michelle held the phone to his ear. Bryan followed up with a text message, a goodbye from Nikki and from Ellery, who may not have fully realized the stakes but knew her "Papa Tim" wasn't feeling well the last time she saw him.
Then Taylor called.
"I wanted to make it count," he said. "Mostly, I really wanted to say, 'I love you,' and 'Thank you for everything you've done for us.'"
He rambled, he admits, poring through ideas he'd collected over two years.
"It didn't come out exactly like I was hoping. … It was so hard, but I felt relieved," Taylor said. "It was like he was holding out to be able to hear from me."
Michelle said Tim's heart raced through the call.
Within 10 minutes, it had stopped.
One last message
Bryan and Taylor said it was their dad’s attitude in the last months, weeks and days that they’ll remember — the work on the Harley, the days on the mountain, the reckless trips to watch them compete.
It wasn't easy.
"As I am dealing with this ALS, it's become more and more apparent I'm not getting any better," Tim wrote in the journal during his trip to Finland. "I'll make it, but it's not going to be pretty."
He was able to communicate so much, but it never felt like quite enough.
"Not being able to talk is a real problem," he wrote on one day. "I am invisible, a ghost."
"The hardest part was being at dinner last night," he wrote while at World Championships with his sons, "and not being able to talk to them and tell them how proud I was."
But, he had no regrets about expending the extra effort it took to enjoy those days the best he could.
"Not complaining. Just saying," he noted once.
The last journal entry is dated March 22, 2017, 17 months before ALS would finally end the battle.
"I am increasing my desire to leave and my desire to ride around and spend the summer the way I want," Tim wrote.
He went on to wonder where he was going to ski that winter, insisting he needed to figure that out by late summer. The back of his Harley, he speculated, was a perfect place to make that decision.
Then he signed off, his final words seemingly as carefully prepared for his sons as theirs were for him.
"In the wind, ghost rider," he wrote. "Happy trails."
Steamboat Olympian Arielle Gold takes in ESPYs experience
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Some of the world’s greatest athletes walked the red carpet at the ESPYs on Wednesday, including Steamboat’s own Olympic snowboard half-pipe bronze medalist, Arielle Gold.
The proud, small-town athlete isn’t one for fancy outfits or the red carpet, but it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
“It was interesting. I was definitely a bit nervous when I was doing it,” Gold said. “Everyone else had people walking with them, like publicists. I was with my brother, so I was little unsure about where we were supposed to go.”
Gold had been putting the word out that she wanted to go, and she received an invitation a week before the event.
She had a few goals in mind, like meeting Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller.
“I was excited to get a chance to get a photo with him, kind of brought the medal out, adds a little more credibility when I'm bothering him for a photo,” Gold said.
Gold also met Odell Beckham Jr. and reunited with her teammates from the Olympics.
Gold describes feeling “starstruck” in the room full of athletes, despite being a professional herself.
She credits Chloe Kim, who won three ESPYs, for making snowboarding more popular. It’s part of what made the experience so special: watching her sport take centerstage.
“We don't get a lot of attention,” Gold said. “It's a huge credit to Chloe. She's been doing a really good job of representing snowboarding.”
LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The International Olympic Committee added seven medal events to the 2022 Beijing Winter Games in a planning meeting Wednesday, but women’s Nordic combined did not make the cut.
At a glance
New Olympic winter sports for 2022
• Big air freestyle skiing
• Big air freestyle skiing
• Short-track speed skating
• Ski jumping
• Ski aerials
The next Winter Olympics will now include women’s monobob, big air freestyle skiing for men and women, plus mixed team events in short-track speed skating, ski jumping, ski aerials and snowboardcross.
A women’s Nordic combined event — mixing cross-country skiing and ski jumping — will not join the Olympic program because the overall quality of competition and variety of countries taking part was not “at a level appropriate to being included,” the IOC official said.
"We were optimistic that our athletes would be able to shine in women's Nordic combined,” USA Nordic Executive Director Billy Demong was quoted as saying in a news release. “However, they will continue to train as their spirit may be temporarily dampened but their passions will be reignited."
The 2022 Olympics also will see a reduction in how many athletes will compete.
In an attempt to cut organizing costs, amid recent failures of potential bidders in Europe for the 2026 Winter Games, there will be no additional venues required and 41 fewer athletes in Beijing than the 2,933 competitors at the Pyeongchang Olympics in February.
IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell said changes for Beijing were “really sending a strong message about controlling the size of the Olympic Winter Games.”
Sports losing athletes from their Olympic quota include 41 in skiing disciplines, 26 from skating and 20 in biathlon. Women’s ice hockey will grow by two teams to become a 10-nation lineup instead, adding 46 athletes.
McConnell said an improved gender balance will see 45.4 percent female athletes in Beijing, rising from 41.1 percent in Pyeongchang.
Steamboat Olympian Arielle Gold to walk red carpet at ESPYs
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat's Arielle Gold didn't know until a week ago that she'd be going to the ESPYs.
But the Olympic bronze medalist will have the chance to walk the red carpet with her brother, Taylor Gold, at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
"I think for me it's a cool opportunity to be around a lot of athletes I don't normally get to be around," Gold said.
Gold, a self-proclaimed die-hard Broncos fan, hopes to meet Von Miller and looks forward to reuniting with fellow Olympic snowboarders, like Kelly Clark and Chloe Kim.
5 to 6 p.m. ESPY red carpet on ESPN
7 to 10 p.m. ESPY award show on ABC
"I haven't seen Chloe since the Olympics," Gold said. "I didn't have an outfit until yesterday because I'm terrible at shopping and terrible at fashion, and I just followed her around for half an hour while she pulled things off the rack."
As a Steamboat native, Gold takes pride in representing her small town on the big stage. While she's not nominated for an award, she's always wanted to go to the ESPYs.
"It's not so much about getting attention; I just want to be a fly on the wall and be there for the whole experience," Gold said.
Olympian Mick Dierdorff among large Steamboat crew named to 2018-19 U.S. team
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It may be time for Mick Dierdorff to come up with a new list.
The Steamboat Springs snowboarder finished his winter with plenty checked off his career to-do list in snowboard cross, from making a World Cup podium to leading the U.S. team in the world standings to making the Olympic team and, there, progressing through the bracket to earn the chance to race in the finals for an Olympic gold medal.
He's been busy checking items off since the end of the season, as well, including visiting the White House last month and, this week, being named to the U.S. Snowboard Cross A team after living four years on the B team.
It means a big financial break for Dierdorff, and it's yet another accomplished goal.
"It's been a goal as long as I can remember," he said. "It's pretty exciting to check that one off."
Steamboat athletes dot national teams
Dierdorff was one of a handful of Steamboat Springs athletes named to various national teams so far this week.
Steamboat slopestyle rider Nik Baden is on the men's pro team for that event. Steamboat's Arielle Gold, a two-time Olympian and a bronze medalist at the 2018 Olympics, is on the women's pro halfpipe team while her brother, 2014 Olympian and X Games medalist Taylor Gold is on the men's pro team after taking last season off to rehabilitate a persistent injury.
On the women's side of snowboard cross, Rosie Mancari, an Anchorage, Alaska, athlete who trains with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, is on the snowboard cross B team. Mancari also made the Olympic team for 2018 though an injury before her event kept her from competing.
Aaron "AJ" Muss was named to the B team for Alpine snowboarding. Muss grew up in New Jersey and trained for much of his career in Steamboat. He's a 2018 Olympian and coming off the best season of his career in which he reached the top 10 four times during the World Cup schedule.
Jaelin Kauf leads an elite group of women named to the freestyle moguls A team.
Kauf, who graduated from Steamboat Springs High School and trained with the Winter Sports Club before making the U.S. team, finished second last winter in the World Cup standings and was seventh at her first Winter Olympics.
Olivia Giaccio, who also trained with the Winter Sports Club before making the team, is on the A team, as well, and Avital Shimko made the B team. Shimko, from New York City, lived and trained in Steamboat before earning World Cup starts last winter and earning her spot on the team by winning the Nor-Am moguls circuit.
Opportunity of a lifetime
For Dierdorff, there wasn't much debate about whether or not he'd get the promotion. He was the only mens U.S. snowboard cross rider to meet the required criteria to make the A team, which demanded riders either make the Olympic podium or two World Cup podiums.
He did that, placing third early in the season and second late, then he was fifth at the Olympics.
Life since has been everything he expected, he said, including that trip to the White House for traditional Olympians Washington, D.C., visit.
Athletes partied deep into the night before their visit at and after the Team USA awards, then were up early for their big visit where they had three hours to wait and explore the building before President Donald Trump spoke to the group.
"Oh man, it was so much fun," he said. "Just getting back with all the athletes you met from other sports at the Olympics, getting to hang out with them for three days in a setting where you're not competing, it was super fun.
"Getting to see the White House was absolutely crazy," he said. "The only place we couldn't go was the residence upstairs, but the whole main floor and the basement, there were so many different rooms and every room had a different story. I wasn’t viewing it as a political thing, just a privilege we were offered as Olympians. It's been a tradition a long time, and it was so cool"
With his days on the slopes limited, Steamboat’s Tim Fletcher and his family are fighting ALS with ski area laps
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs Olympian Bryan Fletcher wasn't overly thrilled to be pulled into the Ice Bucket Challenge wave that swept social media in late summer 2014.
"I remember thinking specifically, 'I don't really want to do this,'" he said Wednesday.
But, he's spent plenty of time in his life helping charities. He was on the verge of starting his own charity to help children recovering from cancer, a battle he himself survived. Plus, he's a good sport, so after a warm summer day Nordic combined training, he filled a bucket with water and ice — heavy on the ice, he insists — he enlisted his wife, Nikki Fletcher, to take a cellphone video and he went through with it, dumping the water and ice over his head in his Heber City, Utah backyard.
"I didn't think I had a choice," he said, "so I made the best of it."
He followed that up with a $50 donation to the ALS Association, a small drop of the $115 million that organization reaped from the ice bucket phenomena.
He had no way at the time of knowing how glad he'd be he took part. Two years later his father, Tim Fletcher, was diagnosed with ALS, and now 18 months after that, the Fletcher family will be hitting the snow Saturday in Winter Park for another ALS fundraiser, Ski to Defeat ALS.
"I'm glad I did it now with everything my dad is going through," Fletcher said of his icy 2014 bath.
The Fletchers are raising money this weekend for the skiing event, where the funds will again go to the ALS Association.
The money from 2014 has done much to push the research on ALS, a degenerative neurological disease that slowly takes the muscles away from those affected. About two thirds of the money raised went to research according to the organization, and that research has led to genetic discoveries related to the disease.
Bryan Fletcher said his father hasn't directly benefitted from any of the drugs that have debuted since 2014. His particular strain of ALS isn't the most common, limiting the options. And, the money raised this weekend won't go directly to help Tim Fletcher, either.
"Tim has said, 'it's too late for me, but if it helps people down the road, it's definitely worth it,'" said Michele Schiau, Tim Fletcher's girlfriend. "It's definitely worth it because ALS needs to be eradicated."
With Michele ever at his side, Tim traveled in February to South Korea to watch his sons Bryan and Taylor Fletcher compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The effects of the disease were already long-since clear. He had to resign from his job as a ski patroller at Howelsen Hill a year prior. He lost his ability to eat and talk months before and his hands were becoming more and more difficult to control as ALS worked its way from his head down. (A more common variant of the disease works from the extremities in, allowing for a longer but less active life.)
Life hasn't been any more smooth since returning from Korea. Fletcher came down with a nasty bout of the flu in the days after landing, and he's continued to grow weaker. He’s still managed to log a few days at Steamboat Ski Area, however. Bryan came to town to ski several weeks ago and they spent the morning on the mountain, and Michele and Tim went up just this week to catch some of the powder from the spring storm that assaulted town during the weekend.
Michele asked if he wanted to go again Wednesday, but ever aware of the conditions, he opted out.
"It's going to be all slush," he wrote to her.
"He was right," she said.
He will ski this weekend in Winter Park with Michele and Bryan as a part of the Ski to Defeat ALS fundraiser.
"He's getting out and having fun, and he has a nice smile on his face when he's making those turns," she said. "He's a pretty strong, amazing guy."
As the disease progress, there may not be any more days like Saturday. That's something Bryan said he's had to consider.
"We don't have many more days on the slopes this year, and I don't know if he’ll be able to ski next year," Bryan said, pausing, "if he makes it to next year."
So, they plan to do as they did in Korea, and as they've done since the deadly diagnosis came down 18 months ago, to make the most of the moments they have left. In this instance, they hope to raise some money, too, this time without having to dump a bucket of icy water on anyone's head.
Michele and Bryan have combined to raise nearly $6,000 so far, and they're hoping to build on that total in the next few days.
Steamboat’s Kyle Taulman spreads the good word on adaptive sports during Paralympic Games
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There have always been people there to teach, Kyle Taulman said.
Taulman, a Steamboat Springs sophomore, lost the use of his legs when he was just two years old after a tumor caused a spinal cord injury. There have been people along the way to help him learn to master a wheelchair, learn to hop off a curb and even learn to race on a sit ski.
"You just learn different things from different people as you go through life," he said. "I've been lucky enough to have a lot of great guides to help me."
Taulman traveled last month to the 2018 Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, serving as an ambassador for American adaptive athletes.
There were plenty of highlights, he said.
He was able to attend the opening ceremonies. He went to the downhill skiing event, the snowboard cross race and a sled hockey game in which the United States blew out Japan, 10-0, en route to a gold medal in the event.
"Honestly, it was awesome," he said. "The U.S. has a great sled hockey team, and we really just destroyed in that game."
The best part of the trip, however, wasn't in any of those events, or even in anything directly related to the actual Paralympics.
Taulman was one of a group of top young American athletes with disabilities selected to work with young South Korean athletes with disabilities, usually on the same slopes where Olympic athletes had been competing only days before.
"I've have a lot of great people help me," Taulman said. "I hope I was able to be that for some of those kids in Korea."
Taulman has his own long-term plans for the Paralympic Games. He competes with the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park. He's trained with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club in the past, but gets much more specific coaching for his sit ski racing in Winter Park.
He travels for half a dozen events a year and only recently returned from the U.S. and Canadian national championships in Mammoth Mountain, California.
His ultimate goal is to compete at the 2022 Paralympic Games in Beijing.
Just being at the 2018 version helped fuel that fire.
"Being able to be there, instead of watching on TV, that was really awesome, but seeing that atmosphere, it makes you want to go and compete instead of sitting in the crowd," he said. "Sitting in the crowd was great, but you really want to show what you can do."
He did get the chance to get out on the snow in South Korea, helping young Koreans with disabilities.
They skied at Phoenix Snow Park, a South Korean resort that wasn't a venue for the Paralypics, but was for the Olympics, which took place in February. It played host to most of the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events and featured a snowboard cross course, a moguls run, a slopestyle course and the halfpipe.
The resort was entirely closed for the Olympics and Paralympics, but Taulman's crew was allowed up on the slopes. For the most of their trip, they were only allowed on one run, but later, as the Olympic grandstands and other facilities were being disassembled, the resort's management let them out onto more terrain.
"We got to ski for a few days with some Korean children with disabilities.We were peer mentors for them, getting to know them, teaching them how to ski. They'd never been skiing before," Taulman said.
American instructors were also there working with adults and the purpose of the trip for all was to show just what was possible.
"They don't have the sort of access to adaptive programs like we do here," Taulman said. "A big part of the trip was to introduce people to adaptive sports and try to spark adaptive sports in Korea." Being in Korea was pretty great, he said. He got to ski the Olympic halfpipe, the same one Shaun White, Chloe Kim and Arielle Gold rode to Olympic medals.
"They won their medals just a few days before and then I got to ski it for fun," he said.
The best part of the trip, though, didn't have anything do with the halfpipe.
"We're just so used to having adaptive sports, but a lot of those kids had never thought about it," he said. "To see us there skiing, moving around in our chair independently, helping out other people, that transcends language and show them, 'Just because I have a disability, I'm not confined to sitting at home. I can get out there and do something.'"
Best of the quest: Favorite photography from the 2018 Winter Olympics
People keep asking which Olympics was best. I've been in Steamboat Springs for a decade now. In plenty of ways I'm still the Kansas kid who stumbled into town in February 2008, but in other ways, I'm not.
One of the opportunities Steamboat has offered me that I couldn't have even dreamed 10 years ago is the chance to cover two Winter Olympics, and, in turn, the chance to compare them.
So, which was best, 2014 in Sochi, Russia, or 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea? It's an impossible question to answer.
It's both an easy question and a hard one. Even though it was in general a more successful showing by the United States, I saw very, very few U.S. medals at the 2014 Olympics. I saw
Hannah Kearney win bronze in the moguls when she was upset by a rival, and I saw Vic Wild win two golds in Alpine snowboarding for Russia.
This go-around, I was there, front and center, for Red Gerard's gold, Jamie Anderson's gold, Shaun White's gold and Alex Ferreira's silver, to name a few.
Oh, and I was there for Arielle Gold's bronze, easily the best Olympic event I've covered at either Olympics. I've spent so much time talking to and writing about Gold and her ambitions and plans, it's easy to forget she's just 21 years old. She's had the career ups and downs of a 30-year-old.
To be there to see it all pay off, to see her throw down on the last run of the contest, was awesome. It's my job to have the words, and I struggle to find them.
Outside the events, though, what was better: 2014 or 2018 — Russia or South Korea?
I'm not entirely sure there's a right answer.
The Sochi Games were a $50 billion financial boondoggle the likes of which had never been seen. Seeing Sochi made me question how seriously Denver would really want to win an Olympic bid.
Everything felt unfinished. It felt like they'd finished our media lodging while we were in the lobby, and even then, "finished" was a stretch. For the first week of the Olympics, you'd notice major new stores opening, new concrete being poured, new buildings being finished.
That was all absurd, but the resorts were designed from the ground up with the Olympics in mind, and they were certainly handy. Journalists were dropped off 30 yards from their workstations. Security was designed into every building, every venue.
There were more buses, and they ran with military precision, which made sense because there was military everywhere you looked. Security was tight, annoyingly so even.
Security was far more lax in South Korea. People were nicer. The food better and cheaper. The venues were much better for competitions.
But, whereas the Sochi accommodations seemed like they'd been finished 45 minutes ago, the Korea accommodations seemed like they'd been finished 45 years ago.
The media transportation wasn't as convenient. The venues weren't laid out as intricately. The buses sometimes ran late.
No difference was quite as profound to my little world than the way photographers were handled, however.
In Sochi, photographers were generally split into two groups — a small one for the big photo agencies and companies, such as the Associated Press, Reuters and Getty Images, and a big group for the rest of us.
The best photo locations were roped off ahead of the Olympics to be saved for the small group. The rest of the positions weren't bad by any stretch but were off to the side instead of right in the middle, for instance.
Pyeongchang was run on a more first-come, first-serve basis, which was great in my book. I frequently was able to end up in choice positions, right in the middle of the photo corral and looking dead on at finishers coming across the finish line.
But, when photographing the Olympics, there's always a tradeoff, and even getting a great position at the bottom of the course comes with a few.
An even bigger difference for this Olympics came in my own responsibilities. Four years ago, my focus was about 95 percent on photography, and we had another Steamboat reporter on hand to write.
This time, I did all the writing for Steamboat athletes, plus some for our sister publications in the Colorado Mountain News Media family, which is what sent me to cover athletes like Gerard and Anderson.
That changed a lot about how I went about my process.
The big tradeoff to camping in a good photo spot at the bottom of the course is you can't get up and out on the course to get more unique shots. By the time you came back, your sweet spot would be spoken for.
My need to be near the bottom was compounded by the writing responsibilities, too. I needed to be able to get to the interview area before an athlete, and for many events, you couldn't be entirely sure when the skier or snowboarder you were covering would be done and heading over for those interviews. So, I couldn't ever drift too far.
Still, photographing an Olympics is truly an awesome opportunity. There's as much passion in a day as I otherwise encounter in a month.
Photographing and writing about the Olympics can lead to wildly hectic times. Events were squeezed in during the mornings in Korea to run live in prime time in the United States, and it was often a race to squeeze in under what amounted to a 2 p.m. deadline. So even if I took 1,000 photos at an event, I only took the time to really examine 10.
I've had more time since returning to the United States, more time to come up with our best photos from the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Jaelin Kauf tallies another win to cap World Cup season
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — An up and down season that both included new heights for Jaelin Kauf and a few frustrating episodes of "almost" ended on a major upswing Sunday at the final freestyle moguls skiing World Cup event of the season.
Competing in a dual moguls event in Megeve, France, Kauf charged through the bracket — largely at the expense of her friends and American teammates — to win. It was Kauf's third victory on the World Cup circuit this season and her fifth visit to the podium in the season's nine events.
It was her fourth career World Cup win and eighth career podium.
Kauf, who trained in Steamboat Springs before making the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, was the only womens skier this year to win more than two World Cup moguls events, and she capped that season, easily the best of her career, in style.
She beat fellow Steamboat Springs-trainee Avital Shimko in the first round of the 16-skier bracket.
She then moved past teammate Keaton McCargo, who had already knocked off another Steamboater, Olivia Giaccio.
Kauf trounced Germany's Laura Grasemann in the semifinals, then Perrine Laffont in the final.
"This is an amazing way to end the season,” Kauf said in a news release.
She finished second in the overall season-long World Cup points race, behind Perrine, who didn't win as many World Cup events but who stole the show in some of the biggest moments.
Perrine won the gold medal at last month's 2018 Winter Olympics, then was good enough Sunday to lock up her advantage in the World Cup race. She finished with 607 points. Kauf, who led in the World Cup standings through the Olympics, wasn't far behind in second with 561.
Kauf’s wins were spread across the World Cup calendar, but she fell short of maintaining that elite skiing in every event. She failed to qualify for the final round at the Olympics, placing seventh in her first trip to that event. She wasn’t at her best immediately after the Olympics, either, placing 22nd in the first event back, then 15th in the next contest.
Australia's Britteny Cox was third in the World Cup standings with 467 points.
Vail's Tess Johnson finished seventh, Keaton McCargo eighth, Morgan Schild 11th, Giaccio 12th, Mikaela Matthews 19th, Nessa Dziemian 36th, Shimko 37th and KC Oakley 47th.
“I am really happy with how far I came this year and what I was able to accomplish," Kauf said. "I'm hungry for more now, but I couldn't be more stoked with my season and where my skiing has come. I know I have a lot of work to do this summer to improve my skiing and jumping, but it really helps the confidence leaving the season on such a high note.”
The U.S. skiers will wrap up their competitive season this week at the U.S. Freestyle National Championships at Waterville Valley Resort, New Hampshire.