7 Summit County sports storylines to look out for in 2018: Part 1
As it’s an Olympic year, the top sports stories that will resonate throughout Summit County will also truly be global in 2018. Whether the competitions take place on the turf at Summit High School or 6,000 miles away on the slopes of Phoenix Snow Park in South Korea, local, regional and international glory will be on the line.
Who wins, loses or finishes atop the podium aren’t the only variables to pay attention to over the next 360-plus days. Summit County is also a place in 2018 that is at the heart of the changing landscapes of singular athletic programs, competition venues and even infant sports themselves.
As Summit County sports fans embark on this new year, we’ve selected seven storylines to keep an eye on through next December.
And with Pyeongchang 2018 just 37 days out, here are three Olympic-related storylines that will play out this year. And check back tomorrow for the other four storylines featuring a pair of Summit High School sports programs and evolutions within Lake Dillon and at the Frisco Nordic Center.
1) Despite injury, how big can Chris Corning go in South Korea?
The month of December was one of soaring self-actualization atop a snowboard for the 18-year-old from Silverthorne. Corning entered last month’s two big Summit County Olympic qualifying events — the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Resort and the Dew Tour at Breckenridge Ski Resort — needing strong showings and at least one podium to jolt his hopes to qualify in the slopestyle and big air competitions for next month’s Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
He accomplished all that, and then some, taking second place in the big air competition at Copper and second in slopestyle at Breckenridge to confirm his nomination to Pyeongchang. And he did so despite suffering a sudden hip and lower back injury during a Copper practice run the morning of the Grand Prix final that afterward became a lingering injury.
When he stuck the landing on his second big air jump at Copper, though, Corning also exorcised the injury demons from the previous year — he broke his foot on the final practice run at the 2016 U.S. Grand Prix at Copper. Less than a week later, in Breckenridge, his 95.00 second slopestyle run wowed locals and tourists alike, as he was still battling the injury.
It’ll be interesting to see how close to 100 percent Corning feels physically before the snowboard slopestyle and inaugural big air events begin on Feb. 10 at Phoenix Snow Park. But after his showings at home in Summit County, Corning has a composed confidence and steely sensibility about him. And after he proved he had the goods to beat the world’s best here at home, will Corning’s best effort be enough to post scores that could earn him a medal — perhaps even gold — at his first Olympics?
2) Which other Silverthorne snowboarders will join Corning?
So Corning is in with 2,000 points through three of five slopestyle and big air qualifiers, topping the U.S. leaderboard after last month’s Dew Tour at Breckenridge. Two hundred points behind him is his fellow Silverthorne snowboarder Red Gerard. The 17-year-old finished in fourth in the Dew Tour slopestyle competition, but he was second among Americans at Dew Tour, putting him on the doorstep of Olympic qualification with 1,800 overall points and the minimum criteria of a top-three finish at a previous Olympic qualifier.
That first Olympic qualifier was last February at the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, where Gerard took the top spot. And Gerard, then just 16-years-old, was joined on the podium by a pair of snowboarders who also have called Silverthorne home: Kyle Mack and Dylan Thomas.
In the 11 months since, Mack’s 1,000 qualifying points have him at fifth place in qualifying — behind Chandler Hunt (1,160) and Judd Henkes, (1,100) — while Thomas is in ninth place with 760 points after his own injury suffered on a practice landing at the Copper Grand Prix kept him out of the Dew Tour.
For Gerard, it’s simple: He’s likely in with relatively strong showings, but if he is the top American again at either of the final two qualifiers, he’s a lock.
As for Mack and Thomas, Mack’s second-place finish at Mammoth last year has him in somewhat strong position. And though he is behind Henkes in the qualifying standings, Henkes still needs a top-three finish at either the Jan. 10-13 qualifier at Snowmass or the final qualifier back at Mammoth the following week to be eligible for automatic nomination.
The fact that other potential Olympians still need that crucial top three finish also currently improves Thomas’ odds for the Olympics, though he is in ninth place. Qualifiers currently in spots six through eight, respectively — Brock Crouch (950), Nik Baden (900) and Ryan Stassel (890) — don’t currently have a top-three finish, while Thomas does.
Including Corning, the U.S. team will name three snowboard big air/slopestyle Olympians and maybe four, if the U.S. is awarded an extra Olympic quota spot. The International Ski and Snowboard Federation will determine quota spots for different countries based on qualification points. Countries that earn quota spots then decide which athletes to allocate spots to.
Mathematically, there remains a chance that Silverthorne sends four snowboarders with local ties to the Olympics. But with several outstanding variables, namely injuries, questions linger. Whatever the case, the county will find out within three weeks who’s going and who’s staying.
3) After a watershed 2017, what will 2018 have in store for skimo?
When Team USA procedes through PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on Feb. 9 to kick off the XXIII Winter Olympiad, the president and head coach of a national ski federation will not be taking part in the flag-waving pomp and circumstance: Summit County locals Ram Mikulas and Joe Howdyshell.
Mikluas, of Dillon, and Howdyshell, of Breckenridge, are the president and head coach of the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association respectively. And after an eventful 2017 when more and more locals took up skimo while across the globe a skimo World Cup event was hosted in China — the 2022 winter Olympic host country — Mikulas and Howdyshell hope Olympic inclusion is right around the corner.
The sport as an entity will have to wait until 2020 to see how the International Olympic Committee responds to skimo’s first-time inclusion in the Youth Winter Olympic Games in Laussane, Switzerland. But between now and then, the USSMA is updating its bylaws to be compliant with the United States Olympic Committee’s standards. By the end of the year, Mikulas hopes the USSMA will be officially recognized as the official sport organization for ski mo within the U.S.
Also this year the North American Ski Mountaineering Championships will serve as the International Ski Mountaineering Federation’s Pan American Championships for the first time, on March 23-25 at the Lake Louise Ski Resort in Alberta, Canada. It’s a step up for skimo here in the Americas, as Brazilian and Argentine athletes will be able to take part for the first time.
Here in the states, Mikulas is spearheading a fundraising effort to facilitate the steps to become a national governing body and support the sport at home. Under his leadership, the USSMA is also creating several new committees, starting with its Nominating and Governance Committee and Athlete Advisory Committee.
For this season, the USSMA will hold its National Cup Series beginning with the U.S. nationals on Feb. 3 and 4 at Santa Fe Ski Area and at Taos Ski Valley. The series will then continue with an event in Powder Keg, Utah from Feb. 23-25 with another event in the northeast possible later in the year.
And as the sport continues to expand here in the states, the USSMA is using the cup series to showcase the sport and promote its growth, as the events are open to any racer who would like to enter. Once the series is over, medals will be awarded to the top three male and female athletes for individual, sprint, and vertical disciplines.
Speaking in November, Howdyshell said the 2026 Olympics are more likely, but there may be as good as a 40 percent chance that skimo is an Olympic sport in Beijing in 2022. Whether it’s four, eight or many more years away, here in Summit County the movers and shakers at the top of this infant sport are doing everything they can to shepherd their passion into the Olympic big time. Because the stronger the sport is here in the states, the stronger its case internationally to get into the games.
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