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The secret to Steamboat's Olympic success is the city park

Seriously - when these kids leave school they do ski jumps and go snowboarding.

Steamboat Springs has sent more athletes to the Winter Olympics than any other place in North America.

Ninety-six of them to date - and 15 this year alone. They have a formula for creating Olympians - and their secret weapon is a city park called Howelsen Hill.

“This sort of thing is built over time. It does not happen overnight. It can’t be replicated,” said Steamboat resident, two-time Olympian, and 1984 gold medalist Deb Armstrong.

She said there are three variables in the Steamboat secret formula. A unique training park, a top-notch sports club, and a major ski resort. It's a combination that has earned Steamboat Springs the title of Ski Town, U.S.A.

“We just happen to have all of this right here in town,” said Armstrong.

Steamboat Resort’s base area is located right in the town and has 3,000 acres and 23 ski lifts, but Armstrong says it’s Steamboat's other ski area, Howelsen Hill that is the pillar of the communities Olympic success.

“I don’t think there’s another place like it on the planet really that can match it,” said Armstrong.

Howelsen Hill is actually just a city park owned and operated by the City of Steamboat Springs.

It was the dream of Norwegian skier Carl Howelsen to build the ultimate training ground for winter athletes. He moved to Steamboat Springs and opened Howelsen Hill in 1915. It is the oldest ski area in North America.

It has nordic trails for cross country training, alpine ski gate courses, a terrain park, and the largest and most complete ski jumping complex in North America.

“Howelsen’s magic,” said another two-time Olympian - Caroline Lalive.

She said it was a big part of her success, and a big reason she remains there to raise her family in Steamboat.

“Howelsen I think is unlike almost anywhere else probably for sure in the country and maybe even the world, where you have all the sports going on at once,” said Lalive.

Many Olympians from Steamboat or who moved to Steamboat to train have remained there because they believe that the communities Olympic formula spills over into the schools, the businesses, and the overall quality of life there.

“We all joke that yeah, you walk into the grocery store and you’re bound to run into an Olympian, at least on one aisle,” said Lalive.

All the training at Howelsen Hill is conducted under the guidance of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, of which one out of three kids in Steamboat are members.

Many of the towns former Olympians are coaches there. When 9NEWS visited Howelsen Hill, there were young ski jumpers getting one-on-one instruction from another two-time Olympian: Todd Wilson. The Olympic tradition is ingrained in the community, and possibly getting passed on directly to the youth.

“The funny thing is, that’s not our mission," explained Wilson. "You know, nowhere in the winter sports club mission statement is producing Olympians. We just want to produce great kids and give them an opportunity to enjoy winter sports, and whatever happens after that is organic.”

So going to play at the park after school is a little different for kids in Steamboat Springs, and that’s the formula for their success. Surrounded by Olympians and full of dreams.

“Well I’m a big believer that reality starts with dreaming,” said Wilson.

The lodge at Howelsen Hill has 88 flags hanging from the ceiling. One for each Olympian that came through the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Of the 15 athletes they sent to the 2018 games in South Korea, 8 of them are first time Olympians and will get their flags hung up in 2022 before the next Winter Olympics.

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