As is tradition, opening day for Steamboat Ski & Resort is tomorrow, the day before Thanksgiving. Also a tradition: Donating all lift-ticket proceeds to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC).
The club, which is one of the oldest of its kind in the country, encompasses most disciplines of ski/snowboard. One of its standout ski coaches is Nate Bird.
Bird, who has lived in Steamboat Springs for nine years and is a freestyle coach for SSWSC, also runs the athlete sponsorship program for Honey Stinger. His hope for opening day: “Lots of soft snow and more than one run. And the better the snow, the more people we draw to scholarship day – generating more money to help kids in the club financially.”
Bird calls his job as an SSWSC coach “one of the more emotionally rewarding jobs anyone could have. All the coaches here are helping kids and young adults succeed and grow using the sport we all love as the vessel.”
The kids train at Howelsen Hill and at Steamboat on Mount Werner. “Howelsen is such an amazing resource for these skiers to have,” said Bird. “Leaving school to go to ski practice like most other kids leave school to go to soccer or football practice is an amazing privilege and unique – even for ski towns. It’s amazing how many athletes and disciplines can fit on that hill and get training in. It’s a fun little hill – lots of pitch variations and pretty steep – it’s challenging training for the kids.”
Bird has coached several U.S. Ski Team members, including Mike Morse, Jeremy Cota and Eliza Outrim. He’s coached alongside Olympians Nelson Carmichael and Bobby Aldigheri. “I’ve had the great privilege to have been coached by and to learn from some legends of the sport,” he said.
Nate Bird is among the legends, at least in Steamboat. Ask anyone in town about him and a big smile typically results. He’s one of the most passionate people I know here: passionate about mountain biking, skiing –- life.
“I’m very passionate about sports, about skiing – sometimes too passionate – I get pretty fired up, usually in a good, enthusiastic-type way. But if you don’t like it, and it’s not fun – I don’t believe in doing it,” he said.
Among his former students is Ryan Dyer, a young skier who has lived in Steamboat for 10 years and skis freestyle for the SSWSC Nor-Am level. Bird taught Dyer to ski moguls and now Dyer is shooting for the ultimate goal – the U.S. Ski Team.
Dyer joined the SSWSC because he knew it would give him the best chance to succeed in winter sports. “I started out in the racing program but quickly realized that it was not enough for me. I loved the air and wanted to jump. Deciding between Nordic Jumping and Freestyle was tough for me, but ultimately Nate Bird was the difference. His first year in coaching was also my first year skiing moguls.
“I was a pretty shy kid but having Nate’s boisterous voice telling jokes all the time really helped me fit in. He has an uncanny ability to make kids laugh. Every single kid loves him. He makes skiing so much fun, not that it wasn’t before, but you have not skied until you have shredded with Nate. My respect for Nate is unmatched to any individual I have met in my life. He is the reason I ski freestyle,” Dyer said.
Bird, he says, “has the intensity when you need to be pumped up. He can look you in the eye and tell you flat out what needs to be done and how to do it. He also has a very rare characteristic that is not found in many coaches: forgiveness. He has the ability to work with an athlete to get them over an obstacle. Even if you fail, he comes right back with witty comment to lift your spirits.”
You’ll find Bird and Dyer hitting the hills at Steamboat this season, where current conditions list a 34-inch base and an 82-inch total.