Snowboard Town, USA, Part 3: Washing windows and fighting fires helped Winters and Burns make their Olympic debuts

Steamboat Springs snowboarder Cody Winters races down Howelsen Hill during a 2016 NorAm race to the Cup.
Joel Reichenberger / Steamboat Pilot and Today’s Archives

With the announcement of the 2022 Alpine Snowboard Team, Cody Winters and Robby Burns learned they would be making their Olympic debuts. At just 21 years old, Winters is the youngest American to compete in the sport at the Olympic level.

Burns is 10 years older than Winters, but both had to work hard to not only earn their Olympic debuts, but to get through each season that has earned them a place on the biggest sporting stage in the world.

Alpine snowboarding isn’t the most popular event, so the wallet that funds the sport isn’t as big as, say, the one that funds alpine skiers. Alpine snowboarders do not have the same team of coaches, wax technicians and physiotherapists behind them as other disciplines. Additionally, only “A” team members, or anyone who wins a World Cup event or earns a pair of top-three placings in a season, are given strong financial support. Anyone who wins a pair of top eights is on the B team and receives less support. Below is Winters. He’s close to getting B-team status, but even then he’d still rely on self-funding to get through the winter.

The Steamboat Springs High School graduate started his own window washing business three years ago. He started at JB’s Window Cleaning with employees from Powder Tools, but branched out on his own and now has four employees. Winters has always been an entrepreneur, selling wine bottle corks and pens that he made in his father’s carpentry shop.

The money he raised over the summer covers about 75% of his season. It also has an annual report GoFundMe ask for help.

“It sucks and it’s hard, but on the other hand, it makes me work harder,” Winters said. “Every dollar spent is a dollar I had to work for, so I better use it to its full potential.”

Burns is in the same boat, needing to raise funds to compete internationally.

Alpine snowboarder Robby Burns, who trains with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, missed the 2018 Olympics by one spot. He made the 2022 games alongside Steamboat’s Cody Winters.
Carrie Kizuka/Courtesy Photo

The 31-year-old trained alongside Winters during his five years with SSWSC.

Burns has spent years sacrificing comfort, money and sleep just to keep doing what he loves and fighting for a chance to represent his country at the Olympics.

After college, where he snowboarded competitively, Burns learned that if he wanted to make a name for himself in snowboarding, he had to find Thedo Remmelink. So, Burns made the trip to Steamboat. After years of hard work, he missed the 2018 Olympics by one spot. This set him back. A long time ago, in fact, but he wasn’t ready to give up. On the contrary, having come this far in just four years was motivation to see what they could do in the next four years.

After a grueling year working full time and training at Steamboat, Burns accepted a coaching job in Minnesota. He was able to balance that with competing and returned to the World Cup circuit in 2020. It also allowed him to return home to California and fight fires as a Hotshot wildfire firefighter.

Burns first joined the Hotshots in the summer of 2013 and has continued to work for the US Forest Service for the past two summers. He needed a way to make a quick buck, but he also wanted to get involved in public service, which his whole family did.

“It’s up to every athlete to find new and unique ways (to raise money), to get sponsorships, to work,” Burns said. “For me, it’s fighting forest fires. It’s a public service that I can do, in which I’m pretty good.

Burns also held a fundraiser in october in his hometown of Mount Shasta, Calif., and he always welcomes donations.

In late January, Burns finally got the call that all his physical, financial, and even mental work had paid off, and he was overcome with emotion.

“The initial reaction is complete crushing shock, he said.

With the clash over, Burns is focused but excited knowing he is capable of doing well in Beijing.

“My best drive is ahead of me and it’s not far off,” Burns said. “It’s going to take me more time on the snow to really find those fast corners that will put me in contention for a medal in any elite-level race.”