The Fourth of July in Steamboat Springs, Colorado has become somewhat of a tradition. For many years, ski jumpers and nordic combined skiers have flocked to the Yampa Valley to ski jump at Howelsen Hill and roller ski race up main street- both in front of large crowds.
Before the real festivities begin, the nordic combined skiers competed in the Fish Creek Time Trial on July 2nd. This race is a mainstay of the busy week in Steamboat. The nordic combined team began conducting the Fish Creek Time Trial in 2007 with the likes of Olympic medalists Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick, and Billy Demong. The times have been recorded since 2007, meaning the team has 13 years of data on this course. “This allows the athletes to witness their growth year to year,” says nordic combined head coach Nick Hendrickson. It’s a grueling test with tons of vertical gain and hardly any rest. For the fastest skiers, it still takes around 24 minutes.
Nordic combined national team member Taylor Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, CO) has an impressive track record on the Fish Creek Time Trial. He won it for the first time in 2010 and has gone on to win the race nine out of the last ten years. This year was no different as Fletcher sped to victory. “It’s a hard test so I think it reads with truth,” says Fletcher. The truth of the matter being, Fletcher is really fast.
Chasing Fletcher has proved productive for the rest of the young nordic combined team. Jared Shumate (Park City, UT) was close on Fletcher’s heels followed by Stephen Schumann (Park City, UT) and Grant Andrews (Steamboat Springs, CO). Andrews showed a large improvement, bettering last years time by almost 40 seconds. When asked about this improvement, Andrews says, “I think I improved over last years time by so much because I have been focusing a lot on my cross country technique, which continues to make a huge difference for me.”
Junior skiers Becket Ledger (Lake Placid, NY) and Bennett Gamber (Steamboat Springs, CO) finished behind Andrews, also showing impressive gains. Ledger improved on last years time by 40 seconds while Gamber took a whopping two minutes off his time from last year.
Annika Malacinski (Steamboat Springs, CO) won this year’s Fish Creek Time Trial with Alexa Brabec (Steamboat Springs, CO) following behind her. This is only the second year Malacinski has raced Fish Creek as she is a bright newcomer to the sport, bringing her background in gymnastics to nordic combined.
On July 3rd, ski jumpers from all over the country competed for titles on the 45-meter and 75-meter hills. National team member Nina Lussi (Lake Placid, NY) took the win, continuing her impressive return from a 2018 knee injury. “Jumping far in front of a cheering crowd is thrilling and it meant a lot to do that again after a long time.” Anna Hoffman (Madison, WI) had a breakthrough performance jumping to second place behind Lussi while Annika Belshaw (Steamboat Springs, CO) put down solid jumps for a third-place finish. When asked about her breakthrough, Hoffman says, “This past year has been full of changes and improvements so it was nice to see that I was jumping better than I did last year at this competition.”
On the men’s side, Kevin Bickner (Wauconda, IL) was winning after the first round of competition. For years, Bickner has been the leader of the men’s team from a results perspective so this was no surprise. However, his teammates Casey Larson (Barrington, IL) and Decker Dean (Steamboat Springs, CO) had Bickner right within reach. Casey Larson leaped for that chance in the second round and came out on top of Bickner- the favorite.
Larson dislocated his shoulder mountain biking early this summer and just returned back to the hill. While injured, Larson put an incredible amount of time in the gym. “I definitely learned a lot about what I’m capable of during that time,” says Larson. This victory was the payoff for that work.
The next day, on the Fourth of July, the nordic combined skiers started the day with a 3-kilometer roller ski race up and down main street. Grant Andrews and Tara Geraghty-Moats started in the lead. Geraghty-Moats held onto hers for the entire race while Andrews battled with Fletcher and Shumate.
Halfway through the race, Fletcher attacked and nobody could react. Geraghty-Moats and Fletcher each crossed the line with arms raised to a loud chorus from the crowd. “It was so much fun and a great atmosphere,” says Geraghty-Moats. Behind Geraghty-Moats, Alexa Brabec finished 2nd and Tess Arnone 3rd – both young local athletes. Shumate and Andrews finished 2nd and 3rd behind Fletcher respectively.
The 4th of July elimination jump may have been the highlight of the action-packed week. The elimination format is exciting for the crowd as it rids of style points and rewards only the furthest jumps. After each round, half the field is cut, and only the furthest jumps survive. This year’s event did not disappoint with jumps up to 76.5 meters- well past the K point where the hill starts to flatten out at 68 meters.
During the event, a hat passed around the crowd and spectators stuffed in their cash. This proved further motivation for these athletes. In the end, only four were left, battling for the prize. Those four jumpers were Erik Belshaw (Steamboat Springs, CO), Decker Dean, Skyler Amy (Anchorage, AK), and Greyson Scharffs (Park City, UT). Junior national team member Belshaw timed his strong jumps well and came out victorious on his home hill. “I feel like my jumping really improved over the last two days when it really mattered,” says Belshaw.
Another Fourth of July is in the books and the tradition of summer ski jumping and nordic combined lives on in Steamboat Springs. As Nina Lussi says, “For ski jumpers and summer enthusiasts alike, Steamboat is the place to be for the Fourth of July.”
Looking forward, the summer competition schedule continues as athletes are now eyeing Springer Tournee and National Championships which take place the week of July 22-28 in Park City, Utah. A full schedule of events will be released soon. USA Nordic will be holding a Summer Soirée the evening of July 24th. For more information and to buy tickets, click here https://donate.usanordic.org/event/2019-summer-soiree/e240737