Lights shine on new race venue
Steamboat Springs — Caroline Gilchrist was waiting for her U12 Alpine skiing teammates at the bottom of a section of trail at Steamboat Ski Area on Thursday evening when one of the few skiers not wearing a Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club jacket pulled to a stop nearby.
“Thank you!” she shouted across the snow, her bright smile beaming in the ski area’s blue lights.
The skier looked left and right, then replied.
“Yeah,” she continued, “thank you for this!”
Turns out, the skier had nothing to do with the construction of All Out, the new ski run on the lower slopes of Mount Werner that will be almost exclusively used for Winter Sports Club training and events. Thursday, though, the young local ski racers tackling the venue under the lights for the first time were in the mood to thank anyone they could.
“I love it,” Gilchrist said. “I love it so much.”
All Out is the new $2.35 million, club- and private-donation-financed trail Winter Sports Club officials hope can provide a major training boost to local ski and snowboard racers.
Club skiers got the chance to sample it Thursday and will get two more evenings of training under the lights in, Monday and Dec. 10, before night skiing opens to the public Dec. 11.
The trail was constructed through the summer, carved about half from existing trails and half from new earthwork that added terrain and adjusted the pitch in several spots.
It’s hard to miss on the lower mountain, running parallel to the Sitz and See Me trails that were often closed in recent years to accommodate ski race training or events. It’s now lit by a new section of lights and bordered by a bright red safety fence that would look at home on any World Cup Alpine race course.
“It’s unbelievable, really beyond expectations,” said Roger Perricone, manager of competitive services at Steamboat Ski Area. “I’ve been up here all summer long getting all the infrastructure in. Now to see it with snow on it, to see the kids coming down, this is great.”
It’s great, he said, and unique.
“This is unheard of, nighttime training on a specified race trail,” he said.
What should truly set the course apart from every other trail on the mountain is the snowmaking. It can be fine-tuned to produce wetter-than-regular snow, and that should set it up to be much tougher.
If an unsuspecting tourist stumbled across it, that type of icy nightmare might turn them away from the sport for life. For racers, however, it’s exactly what they’re looking for.
It’s not too perilous yet. Building that kind of surface is a never ending project, and at this point, Perricone said, groomers are still working with what he described as “a trough full of basketballs.” The end goal is a trough full of BBs.
The course will host several big events this year, including the 2016 NCAA National Championships in March. Perricone speculated that many more events could await in the future.
There wasn’t even a race course set up Thursday. It’s not that time of the season yet, a coach explained, as gates can cause bad habits. This is still the time for fundamentals and for learning to “feel” the new course.
But when it is time for gates, there will be room for plenty. Coaches will be able to set three side-by-side-by-side slalom courses for training or two giant slalom courses.
They’ll be able to race in the kind of conditions skiers see in elite events and reap the benefits of a dedicated, purpose-built training facility.
For the dozens of skiers who tackled the hill Thursday, it was opening night, and that was well worth a “thank you.”
“There are so many options to how we can use the hill and where we can go,” said club Alpine coach Erik Gilbert. “The kids love it. We love it. It’s great.”
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