Steamboat has sent athletes to almost every Winter Olympics. Here’s why.
For people who wonder how a small town like Steamboat has produced so many Olympians (95 total, to be exact), the answer is simple: The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
In addition to providing facilities not widely available in the United States (in fact, there are only seven other ski jumping centers nationwide), the club also has a unique approach to its development programs. Namely, producing well-rounded winter sports athletes who are trained in all disciplines, including alpine, nordic combined, and jumping.
I caught up with Blair Seymour, SSWSC Youth Program Director, who has been with the organization for over 20 years. She’s also raised three boys of her own, two of whom ended up on the US Ski Team.
Let’s talk about why SSWC has produced so many Olympians. What is it about this program that produces so many top athletes?
If you really look at what sports are producing Olympians, a huge number are coming from Nordic Combined and Special Jumping because we have the facilities. Most clubs don’t have Nordic jumps. That makes Steamboat really special in that aspect. Our kids also participate in all the winter sports; alpine, cross-country, ski jumping, and Nordic. An alpine racer still learns to go off the Nordic jumps. A cross-country skier will ride the Poma and ski Mile Run. A snowboarder will ski Howelsen Hill under the lights. It’s a very well-rounded development program.
You talk about the multi-disciplinary approach. What is the philosophy behind that?
We really promote the ski meister atmosphere (athletes that do xc skiing, Nordic jumping, and alpine/freestyle) and encourage our kids to train in all of the disciplines. They learn so many different skills from each of the different disciplines that they’re able to build a great foundation once they do commit to one specific discipline when they are a little older. Another important aspect is that we don’t want them to have to have to choose what path they want to go on at such an early age.
Is it unique to have a ski club that offers training at night?
It’s huge. Most places don’t have night skiing. They’re limited to training days and weekends. Kids can come and train any day of the week. That’s why it’s one of the biggest after school programs in town. They have that ability to have that extra 2-4 hours at night after school.
Tell us about the philosophy behind your development programs.
We’re looking at the long-term goals, not the short-term podium, like ribbons or medals. We’re creating kids that have great fundamentals and providing them with all kinds of different avenues and disciplines so they’re able to build a solid platform. We’re not going to be ones that have the early success; we’re not focused on that. Our kids are developing a passion for the sport, love of outdoors, and happiness you get from training and competing. We’re not interested in creating the intensity of sport with a specific skill base. They’ll get that eventually as they move up the pipeline, but it’s not our focus at the younger ages. Watching their skill develop over time on skis or snowboards is amazing to see, especially compared to some of their counterparts.
That seems drastically different from other programs out there that are very intense.
The repetition of doing one sport year-round is killing our kids. We build good athletes and individuals. We want our kids to have the ability to keep their bodies fresh and their minds sharp.
Is it true that people move to Steamboat just to enroll their kids in SSWSC?
Yes. It’s interesting when people move here for our programs from other places and I watch them try to assimilate into our culture and approach. It takes them about a year to really figure it out. Then they usually settle down and embrace our philosophy. That first year can be tough for the parents who are accustomed to clubs focused on early podium results. They want to know, “Why is my kid not doing all these events?”
We’re not going to send an 8-year-old to an event when they can train on those days.
Race days are kind of a waste because they’re not skiing, they’re waiting. It is interesting watching those new people come into town, and they either finally settle down or they move on. But most people realize we have something special.
Does that include a lot of cross-training?
Yes. We have a strong summer program that incorporates skateboarding, strength and conditioning, and mountain biking. It’s a great crossover. They get their cardio base with mountain biking and skateboarding for balance. We also have water ramps and airbags that they can jump into and practice their tricks. It’s a great way to improve on some of these skills without the risk of injury.
You can’t deny the legacy of Olympians, though.
The best part is many of our Olympians still live in town, and they are very active with SSWSC. They return as coaches; they participate; they pay it forward. Our kids are so lucky to have their experience and expertise.
For more information, visit sswsc.org.
Photography: Rory Clow, Couloir Images