PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — At the top of the Olympic big air course, Kyle Mack thought about doing a standard tail grab.
But he had another, more stylish, distinct and difficult grab in mind — the Bloody Dracula. It entails grabbing the tail of the board with both hands.
By the time his fellow Silverthorne snowboarder and good friend Red Gerard was about to drop for his second run, Mack had made up his mind.
"(Gerard) turned back and he goes, 'Bloody?'" Mack recalled of the pivotal moment. "I'm like, 'Yeah, you're going to see it.'"
Mack didn't even land the trick — officially called a "front-side double 1440 Bloody Dracula" in snowboard lingo — in practice. But the 20-year-old West Bloomfield, Michigan native landed it clean when it counted, for a score of 86.75, taking the silver Saturday in the first men's snowboarding big air competition at an Olympics.
Mack's take on the one-of-a-kind trick is not only difficult, it may be even more original and atypical. The move requires the proud Michigander to complete four full 360-degree rotations while also grabbing the rear of his snowboard with both of his mittened-hands.
On his first trick, he landed a backside triple 1440 with a Japan grab.
"To land those two tricks right off the bat, it took all the pressure off me, and it was just insane," Mack said. "To walk away with the silver here today, it was just mind-blowing."
Sebastien Toutant, of Canada, took gold with a cab triple cork 1620 and a backside triple cork 1620 — two moves that required him to rotate four-and-a-half times and complete three inversions. Billy Morgan, of Great Britain, got the bronze.
Chris Corning, also of Silverthorne, finished fourth, attempting a massive backside quadruple cork 1800 on his final hit, coming up just short on the landing. Corning's customary fearlessness was on full display on the groundbreaking attempt.
It was the only trick he didn't land as, on the attempt, the 18-year-old Silverthorne resident completed the rotations and flips necessary to land the truly-progressive version of the quadruple cork 1800. It's a watershed trick in the contemporary snowboard landscape that required Corning to complete four inversions and five full 360-degree rotations.
Though his body was in position to land the trick, there was simply too much torque, force and speed occurring at the moment of re-contact with the snow for Corning to stomp the trick. Right when he came in contact with the bottom of the big air landing, the 18-year-old fell hard on his back and slammed the back of his helmet.
Realizing what they had just seen, the crowd in attendance gave Corning a raucous ovation for the gutsy effort, as it was one of — if not the — most difficult and extreme trick attempted all day.
"We gave it our best shot," Corning said. "We gave everything into it. Needed about 4 more feet of air and it would have landed. Just couldn't get over my board to land it."
Gerard, the gold medalist in slopestyle, who had gone back to the U.S. for a media tour and returned to South Korea for the big air contest, finished fifth, putting three Silverthorne guys in the top five of the Olympics.
"We all live about five minutes away from each other, if (not) less," Mack said. "It was sick to see them all in finals. I won't lie, I'd love to see the podium sweep with all three of us — it would be like a dream come true. But you know all the other boys killed today and now we just kind of get to go home to Silverthorne and hang out."
Favorite Max Parrot, of Canada — the final snowboarder to go down the course — was unable to land his final trick, a switch triple cork 1800.
"Before the last run I had the choice to go for an easier trick and land on the podium, but I chose not to," he said. "I already got a silver from slopestyle, and I'm very happy with my performance from there. But I didn't want two silvers. I wanted more. So I went for it."
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Justin Reiter had dreamed about something like this, of course, about glory at the Olympics.
Not until recently did he actually dream of this, though.
He stood off to the side of the parallel giant slalom course at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea after one of the last events of the 2018 Winter Olympics, happy, smiling wide, but out of the spotlight.
Then the spotlight came to him, Ester Ledecká — the best athlete in Pyeongchang, reporters later debated? — ran to Reiter, two snowboarders both trained in Steamboat Springs.
She threw her arms wide.
"We did it!" she said, leaping toward him for a hug.
"No, you did," he replied, pulling her close for a gold medal hug.
Reiter, a 2014 Winter Olympian, retired from snowboarding last summer in part for the chance to coach Ledecká, and Saturday he watched her ride to one of the great sporting achievements of the Pyeongchang Games.
She won a gold medal in the women's snowboarding parallel giant slalom, expected enough as she entered as the defending world champion and the World Cup leader and winner of eight of the last 12 races on the circuit.
That came after she won gold in the Alpine skiing super-G last week.
Saturday she became the first woman to ever win two individual gold medals in different sports at the same Winter Olympics, and the first person to do it since 1932. It was an absurd accomplishment people were still trying to grasp hours after it had happened. What's an equivalent Americans can understand? Starring in the NBA and the NFL? Winning both the golf and the tennis flavors of U.S. Open?
"Snow Jackson," a Washington Post reporter quipped.
There's no real parallel to be drawn. She's simply Ester Ledecká, successful enough to accomplish something so truly unique, yet humble enough to shrink at the suggestion she may be the most talented athlete of these Olympics.
"I don't think so, no," she said. "There are the greatest athletes in the world here."
She has two gold medals, though?
"Yeah, whatever," she said, laughing.
She made it look easy Saturday. Her qualifying time was more than a second better than anyone else. Once she was in the 16-rider bracket as the top seed, she had little trouble. Her margin for victory in both of the first three rounds was never less than 0.71 seconds, and she won in the finals against German's Selina Joerg by 0.46 seconds.
She wore a speed suit designed to make her look like she was a machine.
It couldn't have been more appropriate.
She rides a longer board than most of her competitors, 185 centimeters, giving her more surface area on the snow and more speed.
"Most women are riding 175, so it's quite aggressive," Reiter said. "But if you put a normal woman on a 185 it doesn't necessarily translate into success. They're specially built for her."
It's more than just the board, however, it's how she works it.
"She carves the board a lot more than any other woman," said Mike Trapp, another Steamboat-connected rider who competed Saturday and who trains with Reiter and Ledecká.
Stepping in as coach
After making the Olympics for the first time in 2014, Reiter burned to return after a forgettable competitive performance.
He stuck in the sport for three more full seasons, but realized along the way whatever it was that drove him to work so hard at his sport wasn't there anymore, at least not in the same way it had been.
Several years before, he'd helped found a small team of Alpine snowboarders, all of whom had connections to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, drawn there by coach Thedo Remmelink, who runs a top program and one of the only ones in the United States.
Reiter teamed up with Ledecká, Trapp and Robby Burns to make a foursome. When a medical condition forced the unexpected resignation of their coach Erich Pramsohler last summer, however, Reiter saw an opportunity.
He conferred the squad, then made the decision. He'd retire and coach in Pramsohler's place.
"I wanted to be there to help my friends and I didn't feel the drive to snowboard myself anymore," he said. "I know what these people are capable of, and it's just an honor to help in any way I can."
Saturday he saw the fruits of those efforts as two of the original four competed in the Olympics.
Trapp, 29 and from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, had been chasing his Olympic dream most of his life. He serves as a car mechanic in the summer, then spent years training with Remmelink in Steamboat, honing his craft.
He had the best season of his career a year ago, placing 16th at World Snowboard Championships and as high as sixth on the World Cup circuit.
He wasn't as sharp this season, topping out with a 28th-place finish on the World Cup, but his results had been good enough and the U.S. Olympic quota position favorable enough he got the nod to join the team.
It was everything he'd dreamed.
The results weren't quite as magical. He placed 30th in what will likely be his last progressional race.
"Of course I wanted to go out and win the medal," Trapp said. "At the end of the day I still was able to compete in the Olympics and I'm very happy about that."
Aaron "AJ" Muss also started Saturday, representing the United States and as another of those riders with big ties back to Steamboat Springs.
A native of New Jersey, he spent several years carving on Howelsen Hill. He now works with a former Winter Sports Club coach, Richard Pickl, based in Austria.
He's had a fast World Cup season, the best he's ever had racking up three of the four World Cup top-10 finishes he's had in his career.
He was on track to battle for a medal, too, sitting in third after his first qualification run. He had trouble at the top of the course on his second run and placed 20th when the top 16 advance.
"I went a little too straight and it caused me to fall into the rut and it kind of bounced me. After that there's not much of a prayer," he said. "I'm obviously disappointed, not happy with my result because I know I could win a medal here. I just have to build on this."
He's not ready to step away yet and plans to make another at the Olympics in 2022.
"I still love Steamboat," he said. "It's a great breeding ground. You have Howelsen right there and the atmosphere in town is good. It was definitely a huge part of my career."
Still one more racer with Steamboat connections hit the snow Saturday, Vic Wild, competing for Russia. After becoming one of the big stories of the 2014 Olympics when he won two gold medals, he placed 10th on Saturday.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The end came with a dedicated effort, a sharp sprint but still a frustrating result Thursday as the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team wrapped up its 2018 Winter Olympics events with the four-man team relay at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The Americans fought in a group of three for the final laps of the event, but Bryan Fletcher, anchoring the squad, ended up at the back of that trio at the finish line, the U.S. placing 10th out of 10 nations in the team relay event.
"I just tried to ski the best I could. I lost a little bit again in the sprint, but I went as hard as I could the whole way," Fletcher said.
The United States didn't come to the Olympics expecting any major success in the team relay. It's team was young, three Olympic rookies who've yet to establish themselves on the World Cup, and one of its two veterans was notably slumping for much of the season.
The 2018 Olympics was more about the 2022 Games, the athletes said, when the U.S. could return four of the five athletes it brought to Pyeongchang.
"Result-wise, forget about it and move on," Taylor Fletcher said of his 2018 Olympic experience. "Experience-wise, it's another building block."
The team wasn't competitive at the top of the event Thursday, jumping into ninth position out of those 10 nations. Fletcher had the group's top jump, but none was better than seventh in his round, again against 10 competitors.
That left the team starting 3 minutes, 13 seconds behind the top-jumping Austrians. The U.S. squad and Taylor Fletcher ski leadoff, Ben Berend up second, Ben Loomis third and Bryan Fletcher fourth.
The team was better on this ski course, Taylor Fletcher recording the third fastest time on his leg and Loomis and BryannFletcher each recording the sixth-fastest time. It entered a back-and-forth for much of the race with No. 8 Poland and No. 10 Italy.
Bryan Fletcher was sparring with those two nations up to the finish line.
The Germans again dominated the event, capping a wildly successful Olympics in Nordic combined. They started Thursday's race in second place but quickly made up that ground and built a huge lead to win the gold medal by a margin of 52.7 seconds.
Norway took silver and Austria bronze as those two teams were able to pull away from Japan, which finished fourth.
The Germans accounted for all three gold medals and five of the seven available medals at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Eric Frenzel won the normal hill competition then took bronze in the large hill. Johannes Rydzek won the large hill, leading a German sweep with Gabian Riessle second and Frenzel third.
"They've been unbelievable. It's some of the best performances I've ever seen," Bryan Fletcher said.
The U.S. team didn't come to get last place, but in a bigger picture sense, the squad did say it got of what it wanted from the Olympic experience.
"All the experience will help me stay relaxed and be prepared for the next Olympics in four or even eight years from now," Loomis said. "It's amazing being here."
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@Steamboat Today.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.
JEONGSEONG, South Korea — The Olympic competitions ended here Thursday with two Vail Valley women, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, charging down the course in the alpine combined.
For Geoff "Salty" and Allison Kohn Marriner, of Eagle, it was a 27-month journey to get to the finish line.
Geoff Marriner arrived at Jeongseon Alpine Centre, in one of the most rural parts of South Korea, in November of 2015, to take a job as mountain operations manager.
The ski area was built from scratch expressly for the fastest skiers on Earth. The fastest skiers on Earth have responded with rave reviews.
"This slope today on the downhill track, the guys did an amazing job," said U.S. ski racer Bryce Bennett about Jeongseon, the venue for the Olympic speed events, after downhill training Feb. 8. "I know they've been here for months working their tails off, and it turned out perfect. That was one of the funner runs of downhill I've had. … They have the skills — all the guys in the cats and on the snowmaking crews. They know exactly what they're doing, and they showed that."
Much of that credit goes to Tom Johnston, the Wyoming cowboy who serves as chief of race here and also at the Birds of Prey races at Beaver Creek, as well as Olympic races at Salt Lake City in 2002 and Sochi in 2014.
But Geoff Marriner — who oversees snowmaking, grooming, lifts and ski patrol — helped build the foundation for Johnston to sculpt this gem of a race course.
So did Allison Kohn Marriner, who is one of the winch cat operators who prepared the track. She has spent the last three winters at Jeongseon.
"It's been awesome," Geoff Marriner said. "Everyone's been super stoked on the preparation."
It's not easy to get to — Jeongseon Alpine Centre is 45 minutes away from the nearest Olympic venue through a winding valley dotted with isolated homes. The entire ski area is not much more than Beaver Creek's Birds of Prey alone, along with three chairlifts and a newly built lodge and hotel at the bottom. The course starts at 4,495 feet in altitude, ends at 1,788 feet and is 1.78 miles long.
It shares common DNA with Beaver Creek. Bernhard Russi, the two-time Olympic downhill medalist who designed Birds of Prey, also designed this course. And Johnston brings his same masterful touch to this course as he does in Beaver Creek.
The Beaver Creek connection extends to the Marriners.
Geoff Marriner spent 18 years in different stints at Beaver Creek. He served in the grooming department as shift supervisor and assistant manager. In the summers, he worked on the preparation for the 2015 World Championships, helping construct the women's Raptor course.
As a winch cat driver, Allison Kohn Marriner has helped build the tracks for Birds of Prey World Cups and the World Championships.
They are both graduates of the Colorado Mountain College-Leadville Ski Area Operations program.
After 2015 World Championships, Geoff was promoted to running the whole grooming department. But he heard about the opportunity in South Korea, applied and got the job.
When he arrived at Jeongseon in November 2015, there was little more than a couple offices at the base. The gondola wasn't done, and all the necessary snowmaking wasn't installed. There was some doubt whether the course would be ready for the first test event in 2016. But they got the work done in time, and results exceeded expectations.
"For the month and a half, two months leading up to test event, all the press in Europe was nothing but negative and bad, saying we were going to fail and it was going to suck," Geoff Marriner said. "Then when everyone showed up, we had a friggin' kick-ass course. It blew their minds."
The run-up to the Olympic races has been intense — the crews have been working 12-hour days during the Games. Geoff Marriner said he hasn't had a day off since late January.
The Marriners have been living in the nearby town of Jinbu, experiencing day-to-day life of South Korea — working to navigate everyday tasks that are a bit tougher in a foreign country, from supermarket visits to dentist's appointments.
The couple is actually not quite at the finish line yet — they'll get a short break, and then will be back to work, shaping the course for the Paralympics.
In March, they'll finally head home for some rest and relaxation, celebrating the success.
"Cigars and drinking manhattans on the back porch probably for a good week or so," Allison Kohn Marriner said.
Alex Ferreira didn't make the 2014 Olympic team and it haunted him for years. But Thursday in South Korea, the Aspen freeskier was able to banish those demons forever.
"It just crushed him. And he knew what he needed to do to get here. It made him work so much harder," said Ferreira's mother, Colleen Delia. "I don't know that there are any words. I was sick to my stomach. I've been a nervous wreck, but it's beautiful. I knew he was going to be on the podium. He's so ready for this."
With his family watching, the 22-year-old Ferreira made the most of his first Winter Olympics by winning a silver medal in the men's halfpipe in Pyeongchang. Less than a year ago, rattled by injuries and failures, Ferreira came close to leaving competitive skiing behind.
But Thursday's silver medal brought everything full circle for the Aspen High School graduate.
"I was prepared for this day, I think. I just worked extremely hard and I'm happy to be here," Ferreira said. "It's amazing. I'm back, baby."
Ferreira's third-run score of 96.40 was bested only by the 97.20 scored by Nevada's David Wise, one of Ferreira's best friends and teammates. Wise also won gold in 2014, the first time halfpipe skiing was included in the Olympics.
New Zealand's Nico Porteous surprisingly won bronze, while Crested Butte's Aaron Blunck settled for seventh and Basalt's Torin Yater-Wallace finished ninth.
"For me, this is the most satisfying competition I've ever had," Wise said. "I feel so excited and just humbled by how Alex Ferreira skied today. Sharing the top two steps of that podium with Alex is amazing. The reality is the other guys had the opportunity."
Entering the Pyeongchang Games, the U.S. foursome was favored to leave with a podium sweep. The possibilities seemed very real after Blunck, Ferreira and Yater-Wallace finished 1-2-3 in Tuesday's qualifying, where Wise qualified eighth after landing his second and final run.
But after the first of three runs in Thursday's finals at Phoenix Snow Park, Ferreira was the only American truly holding up his end of the bargain. His first-run score of 92.60 led the competition early, holding off Canada's Noah Bowman and New Zealand's Beau-James Wells.
Blunck was sixth after his first run of 81.40, but Yater-Wallace only scored 65.20 on his first run after backseating his landing and Wise couldn't even complete his run.
The real surprise came early in the second run, when the 16-year-old Porteous scored 94.80 to overtake Ferreira, at least temporarily, on the podium.
"I was going to be just as happy with myself even if I didn't get on the podium," Porteous said. "You just got to go for it. You are at the Olympics. Why not just take advantage of it and harness that adrenaline and really go for it?"
Ferreira was the only one to answer the young Kiwi, scoring 96 on his second run to retake the lead two-thirds of the way through the competition.
"I was a nervous wreck, but I was so sure he had it and would nail it down. He was confident," said Marcelo Ferreira, Alex's father. "He worked very hard for three and a half years and the results, they are here. It's a dream come true."
Wise, who also crashed on his second run, overtook Ferreira on his third and final run. Ferreira had one more chance to reclaim that podium's top spot and left it all out there with his best run of the night, but still came up just a hair short of Wise.
Prior to the contest, Ferreira and Wise each got tattoos together in South Korea.
"I am not disappointed the U.S. didn't sweep. I would have loved it. There was certainly a lot of hype about the U.S. sweep," Wise said. "It made me realize that freeskiing won today whether I landed my run or not. So that kind of gave me a little bit of a boost."
Yater-Wallace crashed on both his second and third runs. Making finals in South Korea was a step up from Sochi in 2014 when he failed to make it out of qualifying.
Yater-Wallace did not talk to reporter immediately following Thursday's finals.
"I would not be where I am today without Torin Yater-Wallace. He is one of my best friends. I respect him bar none over anybody. He is a fantastic skier and beyond that a fantastic person," Ferreira said. "I worked really hard to be here and I'm just extremely happy to be part of the event."
JEONGSEON, South Korea — Mikaela Shiffrin had once hoped to win five gold medals at these Olympics.
A perfectly arranged schedule — her strongest events, the giant slalom and slalom, followed by speed events, with rest days spaced in between — made three or four or five medals look like a possibility.
But bad weather intervened, scrambling the schedule more and more. The women ended up racing three days in a row, followed by back-to-back races the following week — a grueling schedule for anyone seeking to race all of them.
She'll end up with a gold and a silver, and she's very happy with that outcome.
"To come away from this Olympics with two medals is insane, especially after the schedule changes," she said. "It was like someone was playing a game of ping-pong in my brain."
Lindsey Vonn is the greatest, but Shiffrin is the now and the future. At just 22 years old, Shiffrin already has more than half — 41 — of Vonn's record 81 World Cup wins.
On Thursday, Vonn, 33, made a desperate attempt to medal in likely her last Olympic race, the alpine combined. Holding the lead, she "risked everything" on her slalom run — a discipline in which she barely even trains — and missed a gate within seconds of leaving the start gate.
But it was Shiffrin, skiing conservatively in the downhill and then with supreme confidence in her strongest discipline, the slalom, who stood on the podium with a silver medal.
"It's incredible what she's able to accomplish," Vonn said. "She's so young, and she approaches ski racing much differently than pretty much anyone else. I think she had potential to do a lot more these games. But at the same time, same as me, you can't expect everything all the time."
Vonn will leave Pyeongchang with a bronze medal. She said she wanted gold, but, taken in perspective — she has battled back from five years of near-constant injuries — it was a victory to achieve that much.
"I'm usually not satisfied with the bronze," she said "But in this situation, I think I can be very happy with what I accomplished."
Shiffrin, 22, is pleased with her own journey to these Games, and is optimistic about what's ahead.
Four years ago in Sochi, she was a slalom specialist, winning gold in that event and not seen as a favorite in any other. This time around, she was an all-around threat, winning medals in the giant slalom and the alpine combined.
"Yeah, I talked about winning five golds," she said. "It was more just the idea of improving my skiing enough in all events that I could contend for multiple medals. So to be in this position now is incredibly sweet. Moving forward, I know what to do to get better."
Vonn — who won gold and bronze in Vancouver as a dominant skier at age 25, only to see her hopes to return four years later dashed by injuries — agreed that Shiffrin is capable of much more, but for now, it was time for Shiffrin to savor her success.
"I think she could ski for another 10 years and have a lot more medals and a lot more World Cups," Vonn said. "But as I saw in my career, things change quite quickly. You never know what's going to happen. That's why you appreciate every moment that you have."
Baited by a reporter to make another four-years-from-now medal prediction, Shiffrin didn't fall for it.
"Four years — it looks good, but anything can happen," she said.
Jamie Anderson has never been anything other than a champion at the Olympics. She took gold in the 2014 winter games debut of women's snowboard slopestyle in Sochii, Russia and defended that title several days ago in the 2018 games in Pyeingchang, South Korea.
But the South Lake Tahoe native will have to settle for silver in the women’s snowboard big air competition, another Olympic first-time event, after scoring a 90 on her first run and ending with a total score of 177.25.
Anderson finished just behind Anna Gasser, of Austria, who had an impressive third run and ended with a score of 185, awarding her gold.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — When Tim Fletcher of Steamboat Springs would tell a good story about the best of days to his young boys, he'd use to the phrase "like you read about" as if it were an exclamation point.
There were 15 fresh inches of snow on Mount Werner. The powder came over your head, "like you read about."
It was a beautiful day sailing on Steamboat Lake, the boat skimming across the water, "like you read about."
Those Norwegian ski fans sure know how to party, "like you read about."
Now the only way to hear those stories is to read them.
Diagnosed in August 2016 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, Tim is dying.
Different varieties of ALS work in different ways, some from the extremities in, some from the feet up. Fletcher's goes from his head down.
His started by deteriorating the bulbar muscles of his throat. The first life-altering consequence was losing his ability to talk.
He still can see the world, still can hear everything and make perfect sense of it — all the information coming in at gigabyte speeds. Information going out, however, is restricted to the equivalent of a dial-up modem.
His voice in the world is mostly reduced to a 6-by-3-inch dry erase pad he tucks in his pocket everywhere he goes and a black marker, which he uses to scribble out facts and thoughts and encouragements and "I love you."
ALS is a curse for the family, no question, and the boys have handled it according to their personalities. Bryan, 31 years old, has tried to keep a level head. Taylor, 27, burns a little hotter and has taken the last 18 months more emotionally.
But, they've had time with their father, time to say goodbye, and they know not everyone gets that, so they're gracious.
They've seen Tim meet and love Bryan and his wife Nikki Fletcher's daughter Ellery, born just a month after Tim's diagnosis.
They've mined their father for stories they never thought to ask for, facts they never bothered to wonder about and lessons they never paused to absorb.
And Tim is also focused on making the most of the end of his life, "maxing it out," he scribbled on his pad on a cold Tuesday night at the Alpensia Ski Jump Centre in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
He spent 34 total years on ski patrol in Steamboat Springs, 27 years with Steamboat Ski Area and the rest, with a bit of overlap, at Howelsen Hill. He stuck on the patrol at Howelsen even after his diagnosis and up until his voice was too far gone for the job.
He's poured himself into doing so many of the things he's always loved, stubbornly clinging to them with all his has.
Even last summer he personally installed new pipes on his Harley and didn't just make a point to ride it, but rode it 10,000 miles in the span of three months.
"It gets 50 miles per gallon," he wrote on his pad Tuesday, "and it's fun!"
He's skied half a dozen times this winter either at Steamboat Ski Area or Howelsen Hill. He's visited his sons in Park City, Utah, as often as he's been able.
He's spent every possible moment with his granddaughter.
But, there's nothing he loves more than watching his sons — world-class athletes in Nordic combined — compete. Even though it was difficult, even though it was far, even though it was complicated, he wasn't going to watch from home when his boys competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang — their second Olympics together and the third featuring at least one of his sons.
Tim Fletcher knows he'll miss so much, birthdays and weddings and powder days and motorcycle rides.
He stood on a cold Tuesday night at the bottom of the Olympic ski jump in South Korea as the Olympic large hill Nordic combined event began. An American flag was tied to the fence in front of him, a button he'd had made, "Go Bryan and Taylor," dangling from his jacket.
He will miss so much, but he wasn't about to miss this.
Cold, tired and hungry
Getting around isn't as easy as it used to be for Tim.
Soon after he lost his voice, he lost the ability to swallow, so now he's fed from what amounts to a small box of juice, 8 ounces of fluid that's injected by a syringe through a tube into his stomach.
He needs the boxes wherever he goes.
Tim and his girlfriend, Michelle Schiau, loaded up eight suitcases and bags for their trip to South Korea, four of them to carry on the plane and packed with those boxes and other medical necessities. She'd called ahead to check with the Transportation Security Administration and was assured that with a doctor's note and a prescription it would all sail through airport screening, but it didn't.
Michelle and Tim were separated by agents at the Denver International Airport TSA checkpoint and grilled. Agents threatened to open each sterile box for testing, but in the end, settled for emptying every single bag to be carefully checked.
It took an hour, but finally, they were on their way again, heading to another Olympics.
Tim has traveled the world cheering for his sons, both members of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team and long-time fixtures on the World Cup circuit.
He's not one to bring them up in unrelated conversations, to brag about their achievements, but walls of his house are covered with photos of them competing, and he has a big trunk that contains a clipping of every newspaper article about their careers.
He's been to World Cups and World Championships, then to Vancouver, British Columbia, Sochi, Russia, and now Pyeongchang, South Kore,a to watch them in the Olympics.
Even when he and Michelle were in Lahti, Finland, for the World Ski Championships a year ago, things were easier. Tim could still eat, so the packing requirements were much less demanding.
Now, it's constantly getting a little more difficult as his condition worsens.
Michelle explained Tim needs help getting dressed and offered a weary glance down at the heavy motorcycle boots he wore Tuesday.
Feeding alone takes an hour, then Tim needs to rest afterward. Getting out the door in the morning takes three hours.
He's more susceptible to cold than he used to be ,and midway through Tuesday's event, Michelle slipped heating packs into his gloves.
"The disease is definitely progressing," Michelle said.
Some of those issues reared their head in the first week of the games when Michelle and Tim went to the Nordic combined individual normal hill competition, the first of three Nordic combined events at the 2018 Olympics.
Security at the venue wouldn't let them in with the food and supplies, so Tim went almost the entire day without eating.
"Just to get a little more of a glimpse of his boys. It's amazing," Bryan said.
Things were easier Tuesday, for the second Nordic combined event. U.S. Team security lent a hand, and Michelle and Tim met a Korean site supervisor who proved aggressively helpful.
Explaining it wasn't a highly attended event, the supervisor spent most of the jumping portion of the competition hovering nearby, checking in occasionally to see if there was anything the couple needed. He came up big after the jumping event and before the ensuing cross-country ski race, wrangling a golf cart to drive Tim and Michelle to the venue, next door but still a considerable hike.
They've gotten by on the courtesy of strangers, and as the clock ticked down toward the start of the ski race, cold and tired after a long day, Tim grinned wide and danced a jig, kicking his feet to the K-pop music blaring over the sound system.
He was watching his boys in the Olympics.
He was 5,998 miles from Steamboat Springs, and it was worth having traveled every one. It was a good day, like you read about.
The family business
Skiing is one of Tim Fletcher's great gifts to his sons.
When it comes to ski jumping and cross-country skiing, he offers Bryan and Taylor straightforward advice, sometimes straightforward enough — like, "fly further" — to draw a quick roll of the eyes and or semi-sarcastic, "thanks dad."
He's always there, at the big events or even when they're just training at Howelsen Hill. Taylor was struggling from the jump hill early this World Cup season and the Park City jumps weren't open yet, so he came back to Steamboat for several days of training.
Tim stood at the bottom and watched, scribbling out notes of encouragement as Taylor came in from each attempt.
"He could sit there and watch us jump forever. Whether it's a good jump doesn't matter to him," Taylor said. "I might not have fun that day jumping because it's a struggle, but he's having a good time and enjoying everything."
Tim strives not to be a coach in those sports, which he's never regularly participated in himself.
Alpine skiing is different. He taught Bryan and Taylor to ski soon after they could walk and now three decades later it's still something at the heart of the Fletchers' relationship.
Bryan and Taylor used to spend all day ripping around Steamboat Ski Area as children, then they'd hang around as closing time approached to meet up with their father, who'd been working ski patrol. Then they'd team up for a sweep, head to the very top of the mountain and ski down looking for any late-afternoon skiers who needed help getting to the bottom before the end of the day.
"As an adult, you probably don't think there's much significance to it, but as a kid, you felt so empowered," Bryan said. "You remember those minutes you got to spend with your dad."
It's not the family's first medical nightmare. Bryan was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 3 years old, and that actually helped open the door to Nordic combined. He only had a 15 percent chance of living, so what's a little ski jumping going to hurt?
The leukemia didn't stick, in remission by the time he was 8, but the ski jumping did.
Taylor then followed in his brother's footsteps.
Both found early success and grew serious about the sport as they worked though high school. Bryan eventually left Steamboat Springs High School to graduate early from Park City Winter Sports School and was on the U.S. Ski Team by 18.
Taylor made the U.S. squad after he graduated high school in 2008.
They've each had success since, even if it's been inconsistent. Taylor edged out Bryan for a spot on the 2010 Olympic team. That pushed Bryan to focus his efforts, and he won a World Cup event in 2012.
Both brothers made the Olympic team in 2014 and both expected to make the team in 2018, though it took Taylor until the last weekend in the qualifying period to ensure he had a spot.
Their dad never stopped believing, and even though some questioned whether or not the trip was wise, he was planning to come to Korea the entire time.
Life on a timeline
Healthy, Tim Fletcher spent his winters skiing and his summers working as a contractor around Steamboat Springs. He was the guy who could fix anything, even after his sons and girlfriend started to notice some funny little things in his behavior.
Sometimes he'd slur his speech as if he'd been drinking when he hadn't.
Things went from, "are we just witnessing our father age?" to real concern after a nasty bout with a cold battered Tim in the spring of 2016.
Bryan and Taylor were home to relax for a few days after their competitive season and left worried.
"Being sick wiped him out enough that the ALS symptoms became so much more pronounced. That's really when it was like, 'OK, there's something else going on here,'" Bryan said.
They feared a stroke and insisted he go to a doctor. Someone stubborn enough to travel around the world while battling ALS doesn't just go to the doctor at the first suggestion, finally, Michelle made the decision herself, scheduling an appointment.
ALS was immediately suspected, but doctors worked through a long process of elimination, crossing out nearly every other possible ailment.
Finally, in August, there was only one disease left.
It was terrifying for everyone.
"When you hear a diagnosis, and it says two to five years … we started noticing some of those symptoms back in October, and that could mean he only has another 15 months left," Bryan said. "Your mind starts to go to those places."
Tim and Michelle met his Grand Junction-based neurologist in Craig for the final word, and then the couple stopped to eat lunch at an Italian spot on Craig's main drag.
There was a little girl at another table, just about a year old.
Nikki Fletcher was at that point a month away from giving birth to Ellery.
Tim Fletcher's the kind of guy that will talk all day, all week even, about motorcycles or skiing, talk until his audience understands everything there is to understand.
He's not the kind of guy to talk about his emotions or his feelings, and certainly not to cry, but the little girl in the restaurant, the vision of his to-be-born granddaughter and the deadly diagnosis, it all crashed together there over pizza and a beer.
The resolve to make the most of whatever time did remain came later. In that moment, however, he cried.
The long goodbye
Surely any relationship between grandfather and granddaughter is sweet, but the Fletchers insist there's something else there. Ellery Fletcher is a 1 1/2 old and lights up when her grandfather walks into a room the way she does for few others.
"It's one of the most special things in the world, to be able to see that," Bryan said. "Anything he can do to spend one more minute with her, it's worth it."
They bond, perhaps in their shared frustrations with verbalizing their thoughts, or perhaps their mutual appreciation for her father.
The thought alone breaks Bryan down.
"He can't talk. He can't do anything other than dance and make faces at her, but she loves him and the way she looks at him," he said, halting. "She's so kind and sweet with him, and he's everything to her, and it's amazing to see how they have that connection, yet they've never even spoken to each other."
The Fletchers have never been much for photos. Tim would come home from a three-week adventure with maybe three shots.
His sons, at least, are trying to change that now.
"I have more pictures from the last 18 months than the last 10 years," Taylor said.
Bryan's been sure to take pictures of his dad and his daughter together, playing, dancing, interacting.
"Just so we have the memories, so I have the memories to show Ellery who her grandpa was and the time she got to spend with him," he said.
They've been digging, too, asking about growing up in the military bouncing between bases in Europe, about ski patrol exchanges in the Alps and motorcycle trips around the United States.
"This was stuff I didn't know until I really sat down and asked," Taylor said "He's lived a life anyone would love to live. He's had fun. He's had his struggles, broken through and done so much, and that's important to me, gives me a view where I want to go and what I want to do."
And they're saving things.
They haven't been able to speak, to actually speak, to their dad for a year. The voice went so fast. First, it was just hard to understand, but soon after it was impossible.
Bryan stopped deleting his old voicemail messages from his dad. They're not particularly special messages, not big moments, but they are moments, and they know there are only so many left.
He tries not to play to them often. His dad's still here, still scratching out notes, sending text messages and, when the mood strikes, dancing in the snow.
Somewhere in that is one of the last lessons Tim Fletcher's hoping to teach his sons.
They're not ready for him to die, he wrote. No one could be.
But, they're all learning the value of a month, a day and a moment, and especially the value of a trip around the world, of making it all count.
Both brothers competed last week in the normal hill competition, but Taylor sat Tuesday's event out as another U.S. skier took his spot for the night.
Jumper after jumper streamed down the hill. One group of nearby Germans wore huge, fake mohawks painted like their national flag. A group of Japanese fans stood close and each waved a flag. Norwegians, Austrians and Swiss filled in around Tim.
When it was Bryan's turn to jump, he leaned over the fence in front of him. He didn't yell. He can't. But he shook a cowbell and he grinned ear to ear as his son flew down the hill in front of him.
Bryan paused as he was leaving the landing zone, looked back at his father and the rest of his family, his mother Penny Fletcher and the families of other Steamboat athletes cheering close by, as well, and he waved. Tim would dance through the night, at the jumping venue and later during the cross-country race, smiling wide and far from home but never happier.
This is what he came for, "what I'm living for," he wrote out.
Later, Bryan warmed up for the cross-country ski race on the snow as Tim looked on from the stands. Bryan, set to retire after this season, went on to place 17th, and both he and Taylor will race together one final time Thursday in the Nordic combined team relay event.
How does it feel, the trip, the competitions, seeing his boys compete again together in the Olympic Games?
Tim didn't need a marker. He simply tapped his heart.
It was a moment in the chaos of the Olympics, a moment for the Fletchers to remember, a moment like you read about.
KOREAN DEMILITARIZED ZONE — Even on the South Korean side of the border — the sane side, right? — actual facts can sometimes be difficult to come by.
On a tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the facts tend to differ from tour guide to tour guide, dates and distances and time spans, ticking up in intensity as the border grows closer to the tour bus.
Of course, stories aren't needed to tick up the intensity. The view outside does that well enough as the bus motors past buzzing military installations, idling armored vehicles and drilling platoons of soldiers.
"What's in that line of bunkers?"
"Can't answer that," replied U.S. Army Private Jeremy Earp, one of the day's tour guides, one who didn't ask to be here, explaining the complexities of the Korean conflict to Australians, Europeans and Americans each paying $130 to look back in time at the Cold War.
He didn't join the Army to give tours, he said, though he's taken to it well enough and admitted his mom's fine with it.
"You can guess," he offered.
"Is it artillery?" someone asked.
"That'd be a good guess. I mean, they are right there for people to see."
Scariest day on the job?
A visit from a dignitary required Earp to stand guard outside the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, the village with the long blue buildings that represent the DMZ and the border in the minds of many. He put his toes up against the one-foot-wide concrete rise that marks the border, then stared eye to eye with a North Korean counterpart 12 inches away.
A close second for "scariest day" was the time when a North Korean soldier defected across the border last December right in the area the tour visits, "just by the wall," Earp said, gesturing to a spot about 20 yards away as wide-eyed tourists craned their necks to see.
The soldier who tried to defect was shot five times, and it became an international incident, but the real problem, at least in Private Earp's world, was the loyal North Koreans who also crossed the border in chase. They only took a few steps, quickly turning back, but that's where a real incident was avoided.
Earp salutes the South Korean guards who ever so briefly held their fire when they'd had a chance to kill.
He wasn't on duty that day, at least not initially, but was called away from his workout in the base gym and spent most of the day sitting ready for battle several miles away from the actual action — all of which was concluded long before he was even in position.
There was something funny that day, Earp said. Multiple North Koreans gave chase to the defector, but only a few actually fired. What gives?
By studying camera footage of patrolling North Koreans — everything that can be seen seems to be taped — some on the South Korean side suspect many of the North Koreans actually carry wooden pistols. Even those who do actually carry weapons do so with very little ammunition.
"I'd hate to be in the middle of it with a wooden pistol," Earp said. "I'm glad my country's never done that to me."
With fake guns and loose facts, little on the Korean border is as it seems.
Duck, squint and wine
A tour of the DMZ starts safely enough in a hotel lobby in Seoul, but it doesn't take long, rumbling north by bus, to get a glance of the other country, the forbidden one, North Korea.
At first, it's just on the other side of a wide river, one dominated by huge blocks of ice in early February, but one North Koreans are known to brave every so often. So, guard shacks and razor wire await on the South Korean shore.
That's as close as $130 will get a tourist for the first two-thirds of the Holiday Tours & Travel Korea LTD tour.
There are interesting visits, but nothing mind blowing.
There's a tunnel, the "Third Infiltration Tunnel," dug by North Koreans in the 1960s and uncovered by, depending on who's telling the story, South Korean engineers or a defecting North Korean. It took years to actually discover thanks to the extensive land mines that covered the area. (Don't get too far off the tour route, by the way…)
Visitors climb down to the tunnel, then can walk with it for several hundred yards. It requires a hard hat, not just to please an insurance company but because American after American banged their heads on rock as they hunched over and made their way along.
Another stop offers a distant view of North Korea through a pair of binoculars from the Dora Observatory.
There's plenty to see.
The city of Kaesong, one of North Korea's larger cities, is visible in the distance. A propaganda village is closer, and there, at least from the tour guides, details can differ. It's not inhabited now but has been or features a few residents now but never a significant amount because, as a careful study of the shadows in buildings' windows show, most of the buildings are little more than walls, entirely without floors to mark each story.
There's a huge North Korean flag, too, perched atop a towering flag pole. It's taller than a South Korean version it faces across the DMZ, and that's no accident. The Korean DMZ has no shortage of flag-pole measuring exercises.
Finally, the tour takes visitors to Dorasan Station, a railway station that will one day connect North and South. One highlight there includes a "To Pyongyang" sign above the railway.
Another highlight is North Korean wine, for sale without any real explanation as who's doing the selling, who's doing the providing and who's doing the wining. The price has gone up, tourists are told, because it's not as plentiful as it once was.
A lunch break separates the group, those who paid the extra to go to the Joint Security Area and Panmunjom and those who took the trip to see a tunnel, binoculars and an empty train station.
The drama ratchets up as the bus turns north.
Hot border, cold day
The Korean DMZ is just 2.5 miles wide, and it stretches from coast to coast, the remnant of a cease fire that, for all practical purposes, ended the Korean War in 1953.
The village of Panmunjom is the site of the Joint Security Area, the place where soldiers stand eye to eye with their counterparts, where North and South Koreans meet when they absolutely have to and where tourists simply gawk, at least before trying to quickly snap a selfie at what's presumably one of the most dangerous spots in the world.
The actual border between North and South Korea is not quiet, and a tour quickly reveals as much.
The U.S. Army facility is Camp Bonifas, named after Captain Arthur G. Bonifas, one of the soldiers killed in the 1976 axe murder incident.
It's not the only JSA location with a back story — everything seems to have one, down to the lawn in front of the Freedom House. North Koreans chased a Soviet defector to that lawn in 1984, and a gun battle ensued.
The entire situation is tense, with careful rules established for tourists.
They must wear pants, not shorts or skirts or dresses that cover the knee. Sandals and flip-flops are a no-no, and sneakers are recommended. T-shirts are not allowed, and collared shirts are required. Don't even think of coming with "shaggy or unkempt hair."
It's worth noting no dress code check was implemented on a tour on a cold February afternoon when nearly everyone was bundled in a coat, though it was mentioned by a guide at least once.
The tour winds through a series of camps and facilities, past a set of bunkers that you're allowed to assume contain artillery and eventually, ends at the Freedom House, a large, modern building just on the South Korean side of the border.
Head up a set of stairs, through a wall of glass doors, and the border awaits.
Visitors are given a chance to visit one of the long, blue buildings intended for meetings between the two nations. Drift to the north side of the border-straddling building and the view out the window is of the border, except from the other side, looking into South Korea.
Stern South Korean guards man every station, ensuring no one's insane enough to try to open the door on the North Korean side, no one gets too out of hand with photos and no North Korean units offer trouble.
The South Korean guards stationed outside the building stand with half their body protected by the structure, anything to give their enemies less of a target.
The tension is palpable, the moment intense and the experience far more memorable than a small tunnel, a distant view or a useless train station.
But even face to face with the surreality of North Korea itself, not everything is as one would assume.
There were no North Korean guards on duty outside keeping their eyes open for shaggy-haired Americans, no visible snipers looking for a reason to shoot, no one on the North Korean side doing anything visible at all.
And once the tourists left, the steely faced South Korean guards left their posts, as well, to return inside and warm up, allowing one of the most dangerous points in the world to return to peace and quiet.
Even here, at the border where East meets West, where Communism meets Capitalism, where history meets today, no one's crazy enough to stand outside in the cold without a good reason.