Snowboard Town, USA part 3: Window washing, fire fighting helped Winters, Burns earn their Olympic debuts
With the announcement of the 2022 Alpine snowboarding team, Cody Winters and Robby Burns learned they would make their Olympic debuts. At just 21, Winters is the youngest American to compete in the sport at the Olympic level.
Burns is 10 years Winters’ senior, but both have had to work hard to not only earn their Olympic debuts, but get through every season that helped earn them a spot at the world’s greatest sporting stage.
Alpine snowboarding is not the most popular event, so the wallet funding the sport isn’t nearly as large as say the one funding Alpines skiers. Alpine snowboarders don’t have the same team of coaches, wax techs and physical therapists behind them that other disciplines do. Additionally, only those on the ‘A’ team, or anyone winning a World Cup event or earning a pair of top-three finishes in a season, gets solid financial support. Anyone earning a pair of top-eight finishes is on the B team and gets less support. Below that is Winters. He’s on the cusp of earning B-team status, but even then, would still rely on self-funding to get through the winter.
The Steamboat Springs High School grad started his own window washing business three years ago. He started at JB’s Window Cleaning with Powder Tools employees, but branched out on his own and now has four employees. Winters has always been an entrepreneur, selling wine-bottle stoppers and pens he made in his dad’s wood shop.
The money he raised over the summer covers about 75% of his season. He also has a yearly GoFundMe asking for aid.
“It sucks and it’s hard, but on the other end, it makes me work harder,” Winters said. “Every dollar spent is a dollar I had to work for, so I better use it to its full capability.”
Burns is in the same boat, having to raise money to compete internationally.
The 31-year-old trained alongside Winters during the five years he was with the SSWSC.
Burns has spent years sacrificing comfort, money and sleep just to continue doing what he loves and fight for a chance to represent his country at the Olympics.
After college, where he snowboarded competitively, Burns learned that if he wanted to make a name for himself snowboarding, he had to track down Thedo Remmelink. So, Burns made the trip to Steamboat. After years of work, he missed out on the 2018 Olympics by one spot. That set him back. Way back, actually, but he wasn’t ready to give up. If anything, having come that far in just four years was motivation to see what they could do in the next four.
After a grueling year of working full time and training in Steamboat, Burns took a job as a coach in Minnesota. He was able to balance that with competition, and got back on the World Cup circuit in 2020. That also allowed him to go back home to California and fight fires as a Hotshot wildland firefighter.
Burns first joined the Hotshots in summer 2013, and has continued to work for the U.S. Forest Service over the last couple summers. He needed a way to make money quickly, but he also wanted to be involved in public service, something his whole family has done.
“It falls on the shoulders of each athlete to figure out new, unique ways (to raise money), gaining sponsorships, working,” Burns said. “For me, that’s wildland firefighting. It’s a public service that I can do, that I’m pretty good at.”
Burns also held a fundraiser in October in his hometown of Mount Shasta, California, and he always welcomes donations.
In late January, Burns finally got the call that all his physical, financial and even mental work had paid off, and he was overcome with emotion.
“The initial reaction is complete overwhelming shock,” he said.
With the shock wearing off, Burns is focused but excited, knowing he is capable of doing well in Beijing.
“My best riding is in front of me and it’s not far away,” Burns said. “It’s going to take more time on snow to really find those fast turns that are going to put me into medal contention in any elite level race.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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