Saturday, March 28, 2020

Prater Memorial Cup ski race celebrating 40 years this weekend

It’s a ski racing festival

By Dawne Belloise

When Dan Prater died unexpectedly in October 1979, his close friend and attorney, Paul Puckett, created the first-ever Dan Prater Memorial Cup five months later in March 1980.

Relocated from Kansas, Prater fell in love with Crested Butte and devoted much of his time and financial support to help the local junior ski racers compete on the regional racing circuit. This year marks its 40th year of racing events, with 250 junior alpine ski racers expected to compete. The festivities are set to begin Friday, February 21 and run through Sunday, February 23. The Prater Cup is a U14 Junior Championship Qualifier event for athletes aged 11 through 13.

Stephanie Prater is instrumental in carrying on her father’s tradition and the Memorial Cup, and notes that the races will take place mostly on the front side of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, on International, and this year will include two disciplines—Super G and Slalom. On Friday, February 21, from 3 to 4:30 p.m., the Nations Flag Opening Ceremony gets under way, from Warming House Hill to the base area, with all of the nations’ flags being carried and their anthems played. “We call it the Cookie Crackup welcome ceremony… It’s a tradition that the late Bill Sweitzer started,” Prater says about another long-time local supporter. “Bill Sweitzer was the chief of race for the Prater for years before his passing.”

The young athletes are assigned to their “nation” team. Prater explains that there are 16 nation teams, but they’ve had to continually add nations because the number of athletes competing keeps growing. The teams are balanced in talent, Prater spells out.

“We choose the best ski racer, the fastest and the slowest so that each team has an equal opportunity to be the top nation team,” she says of the racer distribution. “Throughout the week, you’ll see the athletes showing country support by making t-shirts, capes, painting their faces, all of which earns them Prater Points to fill up their passports… The team that earns the most points is awarded the top team and we award the top four teams with prizes.”

All racers participate for all three days as part of their race circuit. “The kids take this race very seriously, because if they don’t do well here, their season could be almost over,” Prater explains. The kids come from all over New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado to compete. There are five local racers this year: Devin Lindenmeyr, Ebbet Weinberg, Kenny Bullock, Alex Weinberg and Connor Brown. The Prater Cup is the last race event before the Junior Olympics in Steamboat Springs and the young athletes find out on Sunday, February 23 if they’ve qualified when their cumulative points are added up for the entire year’s circuit.

Prater also feels that the race is a foundation. “The basis of all these other ski disciplines starts with a ski racing background. You can’t look at any kid who has gone on to be a successful pro ski athlete, or pro skier, who didn’t have a race background. You start as a ski racer—it’s the foundation under your feet, and you evolve into all those other disciplines like Big Mountain, Slopestyle, Park and Pipe.”

The Prater Cup is more than just a race. Prater says, “Most kids go to a race weekend and it’s quick and they go home. The Prater Cup is more like a ski racing festival. It’s the greatest race that kids go to the entire year and it’s their favorite.”

With 750 people rolling into town for the event—athletes, parents, siblings, coaches and friends—Prater hears all the feedback, from the opportunities the race brings to how enjoyable and friendly Crested Butte is.

Because it’s the big 40th anniversary year, the event is hosting many alumni. “A special gathering to honor all of the efforts of long-time volunteers and past coaches will be held this weekend,” Prater says, “and athletes will be awarded many wonderful prizes from Helly Hansen. Every kid gets a fabulous goody bag, a Prater Cup t-shirt, and an event bag sponsored by Moore Orthopedics.

“Romp skis, Christy’s Sports and Head skis kindly donated skis to the Prater,” she adds, “Romp is doing a custom logo Prater Cup ski, with two pairs to the faster skiers in the Prater Cup.” Additionally, there’ll be lots of banners throughout town and the ski area to celebrate the event and the athletes. Prater says, “It’s not about how fast you go—it’s about showing team sportsmanship. They make friendships that last a lifetime.”

Opening ceremonies for the 40th Prater Memorial Cup begin Friday, February 21 at 4 p.m., when the Nations Flag Opening Ceremony gets under way, from Warming House Hill to the base area. On Saturday, February 22 and Sunday, February 23, all-day events begin at 8 a.m. on International. You can watch from anywhere along the rope line of the race course, or at the base of the Westwall Lift. Also visit Prater Cup on Facebook and pratercup.com for schedules and information.

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