World champions, retirements and polls: The best sports stories of 2023

This year, Steamboat Springs athletes made history in the city and around the world.

Bareback rider Keenan Hayes of Hayden dazzled the professional rodeo circuit with the biggest bareback season in history, and several Steamboat winter athletes earned top honors both domestically and internationally.

The youth athletes also performed incredibly well, and the long-awaited expansion of pickleball is almost complete. Here's a recap of some of the best sports stories of 2023.

Cowboy Hayden became world champion

Keenan Hayes became the first rookie to win a world championship without a saddle in history.

Keenan Hayes, a fifth-generation cowboy from Routt County, is the first novice cowboy to win the world championship bareback. He secured champion status after a 90-point ride in Round 10 of the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas on Saturday, December 16, 2023.
Click on Thompson/Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association

His season began with strong performances at the National Western Stock Show in January and continued with several wins in Texas during the spring. After runs in Nevada, Texas and Arkansas, he secured the No. 1 position. From there, he never made it to No. 1 again.

Hayes entered the National Finals Rodeo with a $103,157 lead over the runner-up. He clinched the world championship with a 90-point drive on the final day and broke several records, including becoming the holder of the highest single-season earnings total in history at $434,050.

The Jaelin Kauf Moguls World Cup is running

Jaelin Kauf, a product of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, prides herself on being the fastest mogul skier on the planet.

Kauf earned her first podium of the World Cup season at the end of January and continued to pile up the accolades. By the end of the season, Kauf was ranked third overall in both singles and singles at the Women's World Cup and helped the USA win the 2022-23 Nations Cup.

She continued her success when she won the national moguls title in late March.

Jaelin Kauf wears a second-place medal and a third-place medal in the Moguls season after a great performance at the World Cup Final in Shymbulak, Kazakhstan, Friday, March 17, 2023.
Patti Kauf/Courtesy photo

Olympic retirements

After a distinguished career, including two Winter Olympic appearances and a world title, snowboard cross legend and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club alum Mick Dierdorff retired from professional competition in March.

Since retiring, Dierdorff returned to Steamboat Springs to grow his business, MD Construction, and continued to give back to the sport as the SSWSC coach.

Jasper Good, a Nordic combined skier from Steamboat Springs, also announced his retirement in April after a 15-year career that included two Winter Olympics and eight years on the U.S. Nordic team. Good has since enrolled at the University of Utah in pursuit of a business degree.

Success in high school sports

Steamboat Springs juniors Evan Quinn (left) and Kelsey Norland celebrate after winning the No. 1 tennis match. 1 girls doubles against Vail Christian on Friday, May 12, 2023 in Colorado Springs.
Tom Skulski/The Steamboat Pilot and Today

In a successful year for high school sports in Routt County, no one went as far as the No. 1 girls tennis team. 1 in Steamboat Springs doubles with Evan Quinn and Kelsey Norland.

The tandem surprised themselves by defeating season-long rival Vail Christian and eventually advanced to the state championship tournament, losing to Peak to Peak for second place.

Hayden's AnnMarie Counts was not far behind in the 100-meter hurdles in 15.98 seconds, breaking her personal best at the state track and field championships. She won a bronze medal.

The Steamboat Springs girls golf team also had its most successful season in program history as Kaitlyn Grommeck won every regular season tournament, the team qualified for three state tournaments and Katharina Cosby earned a top 20 state championship finish.

The Steamboat Springs boys soccer team had its best season in more than two decades, reaching the quarterfinals for the first time since 2000. Will Haden broke the Sailors' single-season scoring record with 26 and Jeffrey Sturges' second-half scoring record this season. hat trick helped lead to home playoff victory over Glenwood Springs.

Steamboat Springs hockey reached the state semifinals and had a dramatic playoff run that included a double-overtime victory and the end of 14 high school seniors' careers.

The Steamboat Tennis and Pickleball Center expansion is almost complete

The Steamboat Tennis and Pickleball Center has begun the second phase of operations as part of its expansion to include a pickleball-specific building. The expansion serves as a symbol of how quickly the sport is growing and how committed the citizens of Steamboat Springs are to making room for it.

The exterior of the ballpark building was nearly completed in the fall, and interior construction has begun at the center, which will include a welcome center, pro shop, locker rooms, office space and a multi-purpose mezzanine for viewing the 12 ballpark courts below.

The center hopes to complete the loading bay by spring.

Kudos to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club

The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club said goodbye to former executive director Sarah Floyd and welcomed Brian Krill, who took the reins in July.

The club was also named Club of the Year by US Ski and Snowboard in May, while several local coaches, such as Ben Brown and Todd Wilson, were recognized for their efforts in the development of winter sports.

US Nordic's historic partnership with Norway

The USA Nordic Team has begun the second year of its partnership with Norway's national ski jumping team, Norges Hopplandslaget. According to USANS CEO Adam Provost, the historic partnership could be the biggest thing America does for ski jumping in the next 20 years.

Now in its second year of collaboration between the clubs, Steamboat's Niklas Malacinski achieved a career-best World Cup finish in the Nordic combined in November.

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club special jumper Jason Colby flew 105.5 meters down the HS100 ski jump on Howelsen Hill on Saturday, December 9, 2023, tying the hill record. Colby's jump cemented his spot on the U.S. Junior Ski Jumping Team.
Tom Skulski/The Steamboat Pilot and Today

SSWSC Youth Olympic Games Qualifier

Steamboat Springs has produced a number of Youth Olympic qualifiers for the games at the end of January in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Local athletes representing the U.S. at the Games include Abby McLarnon in moguls, Rocke Weinberg in snowboard U-ramp and Benjamin “Grey” Barbier in cross-country skiing.

In the final Nordic Youth Olympic qualifier in Steamboat Springs in early December, young special jumper Jason Colby tied the Howelsen Hill HS100 record with a jump of 105 meters.

Nordic combined athletes Arthur Tirone and Ella Wilson, along with special jumpers Colby, Sawyer Graves and Estella Hassrick, also qualified for the Games.

Expansion of the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series

Over the course of the summer, the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series saw the addition of new seating, new concessionaires and bigger purses, attracting seven of the top 15 bull riders in the world to town for the rodeo's opening weekend.

Steamboat rodeo fans also had the opportunity to watch young licensed bull riders work toward their PRCA card on their way to the professional circuit. Toward the end of the season, it was Seth Peterson, a Wellington cowboy, who was crowned All-Around Cowboy Champion, amassing $13,721 combined between steer and roping events.

Coleman Shallbetter of Gunnison competes in the saddle bronc event at the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series on Saturday, June 24, 2023.
Eli Pace/Steamboat Pilot and today

Local adventurers reach great heights

Steamboat Springs has produced a number of cyclists, hikers and extreme racers who have embarked on local and international explorations in 2023.

Steamboat's John Moore cycled 4,000 kilometers across Europe, starting in Italy and finishing beyond the Arctic Circle in Nordkapp, Norway. His adventures took him across 10 countries in less than 22 days, battling weather, hunger and exhaustion.

John Moore's North Cape 4000 journey took just under 22 days. He is shown at the northernmost point in Norway where his bike ride ended.
John Moore/Courtesy photo

Camran Hartman and Parker Nichols stayed in Routt County and became the first people to complete the Ultra 6er Steamboat Springs hike in May. The pair tackled six hikes in less than 24 hours, including Burgess Creek Creekside Trail, Uranium Mine Trail, Emerald Mountain (via Blackmere), Rabbit Ears Peak Trail, Hahns Peak and Thunderhead Trail.

SSWSC running coach David Norris ran among the fastest in the world at the Nakawé 50 kilometer race in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in November. He placed second in the most challenging and fun race of his life.

The drive to expand the Howelsen Ice Pavilion begins

In June, the Howelsen Ice Pavilion launched its capital campaign in an effort to add a second layer of ice to the space, increasing the amount of ice time available for local hockey, figure skating and curling programs, among other things.

The city approved a funding agreement in March that resulted in $6 million in required funds, which must be raised by Jan. 31. Campaign leaders helped organize fundraising events over the summer in hopes of bringing an NHL-sized hockey rink with another smaller practice rink, larger locker rooms and dry practice space.

Ferdinand Medina

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