Prater Cup continues to be about more than competition

 “We do what no other town does"

 

As the Olympic Games reach their crescendo in Vancouver, a future medal winner could be showing their stuff on Crested Butte Mountain, 1,400 miles and an attitude adjustment away.


Not so long ago, in 1998 and 1999, Crested Butte’s own Dan Prater Memorial Cup, which will run for the 30th year February 18-21, was a Junior Olympic event. With competitors from Colorado and New Mexico, it was a place for 11-and-12-year-old skiers to see who could win on a big stage.
“Once the kids got into that level, it became a different crowd,” says Stephanie Prater, whose father was the inspiration and namesake for the race. The kids’ attitudes and focus changed. The year after, the event took a small step back from the Junior Olympic stage and became the J4 Rocky Mountain Championships, and “a little bit less competitive.”
Although it is still a major race on an ever-expanding circuit that takes skiers, coaches and families around the region, the Dan Prater Memorial Cup is about more than just winning. And Stephanie takes pride in the fact that it’s not just another event.
“Most of these kids race every single weekend of the season. But when they come to the Prater, we throw a barbeque. We do what no other town does,” Stephanie says. “Usually, when kids come to Prater for two years, they’ve heard about it from their friends and their coaches talk it up.”
Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team Director Drew Cesati sees the ski season getting longer and the pressure on athletes growing, and he says the Prater Cup is a chance to remind the competitors that there is more to competition than winning.
“I’ve got athletes coming here that are injured just to take part in the event,” Cesati says. “It’s just the reputation the event carries throughout the region, all the kids want to be a part of it.”
The organizers bring racers together from different teams and mix them up based on performance level, so kids learn to cheer on new teammates in the Super G, Slalom and GS. Each new team is given a country to represent and they get to carry that nation’s flag, which comes with certain responsibilities, and tag their nation’s colors around the mountain (don’t worry, it’s washable).
“It’s a chance for them to meet kids from other ski clubs, they’re meeting all new friends, learning about team and sportsmanship,” Stephanie said.
But in the end, it’s still about competition, even off the course. Teams can accumulate points in their “Prater Passports” for showing sportsmanship or performing good deeds, like bringing the coaches chocolate.
In years past, Stephanie has been able to secure brand new skis for the winning team from industry sponsors, many of which she says have been impacted by the competition, either as competitors, coaches or in some other way.
But with the state of the economy, Stephanie says she “wasn’t able to pull that off this year.” So she got 13 skateboards signed by the legendary (and kind of local) Tony Hawk, along with some goggles and ski poles for prizes.
But to say that there is more to the Prater Cup than the competition doesn’t mean the 250 11-and-12-year-old J4 racers that converge on the mountain this week won’t be here to win.
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Cesati says, “It’s a competition within a competition. The team members become friends and the camaraderie of that competition and the fun nearly supercedes the tension and the nervousness that accompanies the fact that it’s a qualifier event.”
And at the end of the day, the athletes are coming to win, he says, although it “seems like the qualifiers are more nerve racking than the actual events. Often times the kids’ goal is just to get to the [Junior Olympics] or to the Championship event, so the qualifiers can be the more challenging event.”
Over the years, a few Prater Cup competitors have gone on to skiing greatness, like world famous freeskier Seth Morrison along with Casey Puckett – now a five-time U.S. Olympian with a trip to Vancouver to compete in ski cross – and his brother Chris, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team.
“Prater has seen some famous racers come through its doors,” Stephanie says. “A lot of the sponsors that I’m hitting up raced at the Prater Cup.”
The Puckett brothers’ father, Paul, was a local attorney and race coach who started the Prater Cup 30 years ago in memory of his friend, Dan, who died at the Slogar in 1979.
Dan Prater found Crested Butte by following in the footsteps of his childhood babysitter and friend Dick Eflin, who started the original Crested Butte ski area in the early 1960s.
“When he moved here, everybody that Dick had touched in Wichita [Kansas] thought they needed to go see what this place was all about. And basically those families are raising their families here,” says Stephanie, who is raising her daughter in the house she grew up in. Her sister Criss also still lives in town and designed the official t-shirt for the event.
When the family arrived in town Stephanie says, the streets were still dirt, there was an A-frame cabin for comfort and a j-bar to get skiers up the hill. “We’ve got some roots here.”
Dan bought Brown’s Supply, which is now Alpine Lumber, and was an unfailing supporter of the ski club in Crested Butte, taking his motor home to races as a support vehicle for the racers.
Although Dan wasn’t a racer, and neither Stephanie nor her sister Criss were brought up in the sport, Stephanie thinks her father would be happy to see where the racing event named in his honor has come over the years.
“He just loved this community,” Stephanie says. “It took him until midway through life to find Crested Butte, where he wanted to live and it was here that he died at age 42. And I’m so glad he brought my family here to live this amazing lifestyle.”
The Prater Cup races are this weekend, starting Friday with the Super G competition, followed by GS and slalom events Saturday and Sunday. The events are open to public spectators.

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