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Colorado’s Gold Rush

Colorado’s Gold Rush

If you ever have a chance to go to the Olympics do it, especially if you’re an athlete on the US Team, but also if you’re a spectator or a volunteer. I had the opportunity to go to the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake and it was an amazing experience.

Sometimes people think the CSCUSA Gold Pass is a medal, and usually I let them think that. IMG00033-20091027-0928The things I remember most about the Olympics are; the huge, nearly empty plane from JFK to SLC (remember this was just after 911), the high level of security at the venues, the packed cheering stands at the bottom of the halfpipe, the athlete introductions over the loud speakers in five different languages and voices, the media maze the athletes went through after their run and, of course, being brought to tears by the Star-Spangled Banner during the medal ceremony.

In case you live under a rock and are not aware, the next winter Olympics are in Whistler in February 2010. Come February, all eyes will be on the Olympic Games. But in the months leading up to the Games, Colorado Ski Country USA resorts will be a sight to see as Olympic contenders including Colorado based athletes such as Lindsey Vonn, Todd Lodwick and Gretchen Bleiler, put it all on the line and look to achieve qualification for the 2010 US Olympic team.

The qualifying events are a great opportunity to catch Olympic action and see the US athletes on their home turf. There are both official and unofficial events happening in Colorado leading up to the Games. Member resorts of Colorado Ski Country USA are proud to host the following pre-Olympic events this season.

November 28-29, 2009 Womens US World Cup at Aspen/Snowmass
On November 28 and 29, Aspen/Snowmass will host the Women’s US World Cup for the sixth consecutive year as the Aspen Winternational takes place Thanksgiving weekend. It will be the only U.S. World Cup stop for two-time World Cup overall champion Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO), reigning Olympic giant slalom gold medalist Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA) and the U.S. Ski Team prior to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

Aspen-Snowmass Winternational_JeremySwanson

Aspen Winternational

World Cup racing begins October 24 with the annual giant slalom in Soelden, Austria followed by a slalom race in Levi, Finland before swinging to North America with the Aspen Winternational. Ski racing action opens on Saturday, November 28 with giant slalom followed by slalom on Sunday, November 29, but festivities will be planned throughout the week beginning on Thanksgiving Day.

December 11-12, 2009 US Snowboarding Grand Prix at Copper Mountain
Copper Mountain will play host to the first stop of the US Snowboarding Grand Prix on December 11-12, 2009. The Grand Prix at Copper will feature a 22-foot halfpipe that will be used to narrow down the competition for Olympic spots.

Copper Mountain Halfpipe

Copper Halfpipe

Copper Mountain is known for traditionally having the first superpipe open in the U.S. and carries the Colorado tradition of continually providing top quality competition conditions for riders. Because Copper’s superpipe is located just steps away from the Village at Copper and Burning Stones Plaza, it will provide a very entertaining and intimate experience for spectators. Look for the action in Copper to continue when the sun goes down as the mountain hosts a Paul Mitchell Progression Session under the lights.

The competition will heat up as Olympic gold medalists Kelly Clark (Snow Mountain, VT), Hannah Teter (Belmont, VT), and Shaun White (Carlsbad, CA), along with fellow Olympic medalists Gretchen Bleiler (Aspen, CO), JJ Thomas (Golden, CO) and Danny Kass (Portland, OR) all look for another shot at Olympic glory.

Joining them in the hunt will be Grand Prix overall champions Steve Fisher (Breckenridge, CO) and Louie Vito (Sandy, UT) as well as Grand Prix podium performers Ellery Hollingsworth (Stratton, VT), Clair Bidez (Minturn, CO) Greg Bretz (Mammoth Lakes, CA) and Olympian Elena Hight (South Lake Tahoe, CA).

December 17-20, 2009 US Snowboardcross Cup at Telluride
Colorado’s Telluride Resort will be the new home of international snowboarding competition in the U.S. as the 2010 Visa U.S. Snowboardcross Cup comes to the Rocky Mountains December 17-20, 2009. Telluride will be the sole U.S. stop of the LG FIS Snowboard World Cup and will feature an SBX and PGS competition during what will be the second in a series of five Olympic qualification events for the two sports.

snowboard cross

Telluride Snowboardcross

The event showcases heats of four athletes as they race through rollers, jumps and bank turns and vie to be the last athlete standing.

The pressure will be on the U.S. Snowboarding’s men’s SBX roster as Olympic champion Seth Wescott (Sugarloaf, ME), five-time X Games gold medalist Nate Holland (Squaw Valley, CA), World Championship bronze medalist Nick Baumgartner (Iron River, MI),World Cup winner Graham Watanabe (Sun Valley, ID), World Cup podium performer Jonathan Cheever (Saugus, MA) Olympic halfpipe gold medalist Ross Powers (Londonderry, VT), snowboarding legend Shaun Palmer (South Lake Tahoe, CA) and the rest of the domestic riders battle it out to solidify their spot in the up to four spots open on the men’s Olympic team.

Olympic silver medalist Lindsey Jacobellis (Stratton Mountain, VT) will also be on hand looking to dominate the women’s field. Parallel giant slalom athletes will also be in the hunt for their Olympic team nominations. Michelle Gorgone (Boston), who took to the podium of two World Cups last season, will be aiming to take the stand again in the U.S.

On the men’s side Tyler Jewell (Steamboat Springs, CO) will be back in the race after an injury kept him from competition last season. Joining him will be Adam Smith (Bend, OR) who finished second in a World Cup last season.

Capping things off in Telluride will be a team SBX exhibition competition. Team SBX pairs two riders from the same country on a team. One races the course against three to five other competitors and when that competitor crosses the finish line, the gate at the start triggers for the next teammate to begin racing.

The Visa U.S. Snowboardcross Cup Schedule will kick off on Thursday, December 17 with PGS qualifications and finals. Friday, December 18 will be SBX qualifications and Saturday, December 19 the SBX finals. Sunday, December 20 will showcase Team SBX.

December 23-24, 2009 Freestyle & Nordic Combined Team Trials at Steamboat and Howelsen Hill
Shortly after the US Snowboard Cup, Ski Town, USA , home of Steamboat Ski Resort and Howelsen Hill, will host the US Olympic Team Trials in moguls, aerials and nordic combined on December 23-24, 2009.

Howelsen Hill Ski Jumps

Howelsen Hill ski jumps

The Trials are essentially a wild card opportunity for five athletes to make the Olympic Team and earn a spot to compete at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.Two winners (male and female) from each freestyle discipline (aerials and moguls) will be named to the 2010 US Olympic Freestyle Team, as well as a winner in nordic combined, being added for the first time this year. The US Olympic Team Trials will include moguls on the Voo Doo trail at the Steamboat Ski Resort and aerials under the lights at historic Howelsen Hill in downtown Steamboat.

Nordic Combined is a competition combining cross country skiing and ski jumping. Churning out athletes that compete in this unique winter sport is nothing new to Steamboat, where natives Todd Lodwick (Steamboat, CO) and Johnny Spillane (Steamboat, CO) are expected to be named to the 2010 team, along with Billy Demong (Vermontville, NY) who called Steamboat home for a while. These World Champions spent their youth training on the historic Howelsen Hill, which will serve as the competition site for the Olympic Trials.

Unofficial Olympic related events happening in Colorado
Loveland Ski Area is currently hosting the women’s US Development Team for early season training thanks to an early season opening and quality snow conditions. Both the U.S. men’s and women’s Technical Teams will utilize Loveland for training prior to the U.S. stops of the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup.

Many top athletes frequent Loveland Ski Area and Arapahoe Basin throughout the season, especially in the early and late winter season. With a reputation for solid fall and spring ski snow conditions, athletes visit these two resorts for early season training.

Another Colorado resort that attracts early season athletes is Wolf Creek. Wolf Creek’s unique location in the San Juan Mountains provides a cache for early season snowstorms. The US Olympic Freestyle team schedules practices at Wolf Creek during the early season to train on the pitch of Alberta Face.

Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek

In early February, the US Snowboard team will take advantage of the post X-Game 22-foot halfpipe for training purposes. On January 28-31, Aspen/Snowmass will host the 14th X-Games at Buttermilk. Immediately following the X-Games, the US Snowboard Team will have a weeklong pipe training session on the same pipe.

Aspen/Snowmass Halfpipe

Aspen/Snowmass Halfpipe

Woodward at Copper is the training mecca for pros of all levels looking to qualify for the Olympics.Pros can come in for a couple hour training session with either the One Hit Wonder and Drop-In Sessions or can spend an entire day in the 20,000 sq ft Barn during a Summer/Fall Camp Day or even train in the Barn and in Coppers nationally recognized terrain parks and pipes during a Winter Camp Day (Winter Camp Days start when Copper opens the mountain for the winter season on Nov. 6, 2009).

Woodward at Copper

Woodward at Copper

The best way to train like an Olympian is to train with an Olympian. In Steamboat there are numerous opportunities for guests to ski and snowboard the same slopes that churn out Olympians and world-class athletes year after year, and plenty of chances to ski those slopes with the athlete themselves.

0708LP-Billy Kidd Powder

Photo by Larry Pierce

At the top of Steamboat‘s gondola is a sign announcing to guests whether or not skiing legend, former Olympian and director of skiing at Steamboat, Billy Kidd is skiing that day. If he is, guests are invited to join him on his run. Billy guides guests down his favorite runs and provides helpful hints and tips. Another Olympian guests can take a run with is 1992 Olympic Bronze MedalistNelson Carmichael on the trail named after him. Nelson offers free mogul clinics during the winter season on Nelson’s Run at 1pm on select Sundays.

Billy Kidd founded the Steamboat Performance Center in 1981 to apply the principles and skiing techniques that produce world and Olympic Champions to a skiing improvement program for skiers of all ages.The Billy Kidd Race Camps combine top coaching from former Olympians, World Champions and team coaches, extensive video, small groups and on-mountain multi-day format instruction.

The 1984 Olympic Gold medalist, Deb Armstrong, hosts Steamboat‘s Women’s Camps, now in their 26th year. Under the direction of Armstrong, all certified female coaches lead this program specifically designed for women, with an emphasis on camaraderie and skill improvement.