John F. Russell: It's about more than ski jumps

Ever stop for a moment and wonder what Steamboat Springs would have been like without the likes of Carl Howelsen or the jumps that are named after him?

Maybe it would be like the Broncos without John Elway, the Bulls without Michael Jordan or Mork without Mindy.

Without the men who set the stage, it would be hard to believe that skiers such as Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane and Clint Jones would have grown up to become Olympians and a source of Steamboat's pride.

Ski jumping and Nordic combined are an integral part of what Steamboat Springs is today. Without Howelsen Hill, this community would be like hot chocolate -- without the chocolate.

Maybe that's why we all celebrate the success of athletes such as Lodwick, Spillane and Jones as if they were our children.

It's too bad that the Winter Park Ski Resort doesn't share this view.

In February, Intrawest, the company that manages the resort, broke the news that the 65-year-old jumps at Sorensen Park will be closed to make room for more beginner terrain.

When that happens, part of Colorado will die along with the program that has produced Olympians such as Kerry Lynch, Ryan Heckman and Todd Wilson.

Lynch said when he was in high school, there were six jumps in Colorado that hosted regular jump meets. But when the National Collegiate Athletic Association dropped the sport in the late 1970s, many of the small ski jumps disappeared.

Jumps in Leadville, Frisco, Aspen and Durango drifted off the map. If the jumps in Winter Park follow the same route, and if rumors about a jump in Aspen don't come to fruition, it looks as if Steamboat may be the last jump standing.

Intrawest, the company contracted by the city of Denver to run the Winter Park ski area, seems willing to sacrifice the town's heritage for a few more recreational skiers. But the impact of the decision will not end there.

Other losers will include the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which might see a few more skiers when the jumps are closed, but will lose a valuable feeder program down the road-- not to mention another venue to hold events. The U.S. Ski Team also will be on the losing end as the number of kids taking up the sport is further restricted.

For years, the jumps in Winter Park have provided a great place to experience, learn and hone a sport that is recognized around the world.

Now, without some last-minute concessions by a ski company focused on making money, another part of Colorado history will fade.

Mike Berman, who heads a citizen's group to save the Winter Park ski jumping program, said there is no way the jumps will remain in the current location. He is trying to work out a deal with the ski area to hold onto a small part of Sorensen Park for three years until a new jump complex can be built in the heart of Winter Park.

It will come at a cost, but sometimes protecting a town's heritage is worth it.

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