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Bringing home the world:Steamboat skier is first American to win Nordic gold "He’s minor league," said the NBC announcer about Steamboat native Johnny Spillane as he came into the home stretch behind the three European favorites at the 2003 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
"World Champion" is the phrase that same announcer used to describe Johnny after he crossed the finish line. In winning the gold medal in the sprint event, Johnny became the first ever American to win a Nordic world championships or Olympic gold medal.
Nordic Combined consists of two sports: ski jumping and cross country. At the end of the 120-meter jump competition, Johnny was in fourth place, which meant he started the cross country race 28 seconds behind the first competitor. Johnny caught up to the leaders and held his position at the back of the four-man pack until the final downhill run into the stadium. Then in the last 150 meters, as the three front-runners jockeyed for position, Johnny skated around them all to victory.
The entire town of Steamboat Springs celebrated with Johnny. "The news had Howelsen Hill (Johnny’s training ground since he was 11) on Cloud Nine," says Gary Crawford, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club jumping coach.
Several hundred people stood outside in the wet snoand slush to greet the world champion when he came home for "Johnny Spillane Day."
"Soaring over his hometown with grace and courage" read the tribute to Johnny that was presented by the Colorado State Senate.
Yes, we all knothat winning a world championship in a sport like Nordic Combined ski racing isn’t going to transform Johnny into the next Brett Favre in the eyes of the world, but for Ski Town USA, he represents the realization of a 92-year-old dream.
When Carl Howelsen first introduced Steamboat to ski jumping in 1911, he planted the seed from which the community’s nordic roots have grown. Since Steamboat jumper John Steele represented the United States in the 1932 Olympics, the town has been hopeful of one day producing a nordic world champion.
"To have grown up in Steamboat Springs is really what made all of this possible," Johnny said.
Winter snowpack good, but may not be enough to forestall summer drought
Steamboat Springs and the surrounding area are doing well in terms of water supply for summer 2003. In fact, Routt County’s snowpack readings throughout winter 2002-’03 have been consistently among the highest in the state.
"We are in pretty good shape," says Bob Stoddard, manager of Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District. Most of Steamboat’s domestic water supply is stored in Fish Creek Reservoir, which was 73% full by March, compared to winter 2001-’02, when it was 58% full. Spring runoff from a solid snowpack assures a full reservoir for the summer, he says.
That does not necessarily translate to a drought-free summer, however. "You can still have drought conditions," says hydrologist Kirk Wolff of the U.S. Forest Service. Traditionally, the Yampa Valley’s driest months are July and August. "We generally get lots of sno– we’re usually number one or two in the state – but that doesn’t mean we aren’t in for another dry summer," he says. "One man’s opinion, we are maybe into year four of a drought cycle, which could last 15 or 20 years."
The moisture from winter’s snowpack only goes so far in helping vegetation, Kirk explains. Other factors, including beetle infestation and the three previous dry summers, have stressed the trees. This, in turn, leaves the forest vulnerable to fires. Unless the fires get very intense, as they did last summer, they create conditions that generally benefit the forest’s health without jeopardizing property and human lives.
Because of the forest’s vulnerability, however, a lightning strike could touch off more fires like those the valley salast summer again this year. Even a substantial snowpack like last winter’s can’t forestall that possibility.
Airport terminal expands to meet 21st century needs
To alleviate crowded conditions during peak season at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, officials are planning a comprehensive remodeling project, slated to begin this summer.
Space was already tight at YVRA before nesecurity measures required scanning stations and security equipment to be placed inside the ticketing area last winter. Since then, on busy days, the airport almost literally bursts at its seams.
As a short-term fix, a tent was installed outside the entrance to the ticket area. Its purpose was to keep passengers from having to stand outside in the weather prior to being admitted to the building itself. On Saturdays during the winter, the tent at best served to shorten the length of time people were exposed to the elements; they still had to queue up outside.
No more, says airport manager Jim Parker. If all goes well, a newly expanded ticket area will be open in time for ski season. The plan is to add 4,500 square-feet to the front of the lobby, in the area where the tent was last winter.
"This is not the end of the our plans for the terminal," Jim says. "We’re actually looking at additional phases within the next four years. We might see as much as 17,000 or 18,000 square feet of additional space. We can’t afford a neterminal, but we can gradually improve and expand the existing terminal instead."
Discussion of remodeling or replacing the terminal have been going on for years. The problem is complex, in part because of the disparity in usage of the facility during various times of year. Eighty percent of passengers at the airport arrive during a four-month period. The rest of the year, the terminal is relatively quiet.
"It’s kind of like building a church for Easter Sunday," Jim quips. "Only we have 18 weeks of Easter Sundays.
"People who come through to ski in Steamboat expect the facilities to be the same as they’d see anywhere else. We cannot overlook the needs of the majority of the sake of the minority (passengers who travel during non-ski season)."
Next question: could the same group that succeeded in reducing crowding in the airport do anything about the cramped seating in the airplanes themselves? Would that it were so...
Search & Rescue Team receives CBS recognition as "American Heroes"
Members of Routt County Search & Rescue were described as "American heroes" on CBS’ "Early Show" for their efforts to reach victims of a small plane crash on Rabbit Ears Pass last winter.
"If they hadn’t gotten to us when the did, we wouldn’t be here right now. We would have died," said Neil Marsh, one of three passengers who survived the crash. A fourth passenger died after being pinned beneath the wreckage for eight hours.
The incident began the afternoon of December 29, 2002, with a phone call to Routt County’s 911 emergency line.
"We didn't have enough altitude to clear the trees and we came out rough and we went end over end," reported Steve Palmer of Colorado Springs. "We need help bad, my mom's not going to make it, so get somebody out here quick."
Steve used his cell phone to make the call, but its batteries were dying. And because no flight plan had been filed and the plane carried no flares, pinpointing the site of the crash was challenging.
So was getting to the plane.
Once the plane had been spotted by air, rescuers fought through a blinding snowstorm to reach it. Snowmobile tour operator Jason Cobb was the first to arrive. He was out riding when the crash occurred, and he found his way to the site over steep, wild terrain with directions from a rescue worker.
The plane was wedged upside down between trees when he got there. The wings had been sheared off, and the passengers appeared to be in shock.
A total of six rescue workers made it to the crash site; they were supported by 30 personnel were on hand at Rabbit Ears Pass, including a snocat team, snowmobile teams and a cross-country ski team. The Colorado Highway Patrol closed the eastbound lane of U.S. 40 so an Air National Guard helicopter could land on the highway and assist with the rescue.
The helicopter was able to carry three rescue workers into the site before the weather deteriorated. The rescuers on the ground were forced to make do without additional support, while elsewhere their team members tried to find a safe route for their egress. It took eight hours from the time of the crash for the injured victims to be evacuated safely.
"They bring us down from 9,800 or 10,000 foot in a severe storm and get us to the hospital, they did an excellent job," says pilot Skip Moreau.