The Man Behind The Race...

              When Dan Prater first moved to Crested Butte in the late 1960s, he probably would have never guessed that his legacy would live on in the form of one of the most paramount events in a young skier’s career.
In the wake of tragedy, the Prater Cup was formed in 1980, after the adventure-seeking, eccentric Prater choked to death while dining at The Slogar Restaurant. Having moved to Crested Butte a decade earlier from Wichita, Kansas, Prater had become a beloved town character, known for sporting a horsehair coat and initiating spontaneous jam sessions. His daughter Stephanie describes Prater as an outdoorsman who lived life to the fullest and “didn’t sweat the small stuff.”
 

“He took my sister and me on a lot of adventures,” Prater said. “We spent a lot of time on the water in Branson, Mo., and at one point he had caught the largest big mouth bass ever from Table Rock Lake!”
Fishing was Prater’s first love, but after his childhood babysitter, Dick Eflin, founded the Crested Butte Mountain Resort in 1961, Prater quickly developed a newfound passion for skiing. Once Prater had officially moved to the valley, he found a friend in local attorney Paul Puckett, whose two young sons were competitive ski racers. Together, Puckett and Prater followed the local ski club on their race circuit, providing friendly conversation, hot chocolate and a heated mobile home to help the young skiers unwind post-race. 
“Dan’s girlfriend at the time, Patty West, had two young sons in the club, as did I,” Puckett said. “We weren’t great skiers so we helped where we could, and we became fast friends until the day he died.”
Prater’s sudden death devastated his friends and family. Puckett was eager to honor Dan’s memory by forming an event that would commemorate his love for ski racing. 
“When Dan died there was only a championship race, but nothing for kids who didn’t qualify,” Puckett said. “I thought a consolation race with a barbeque would be a great way to honor who Dan was.”
And so the Prater Cup was formed. In its early years, the Cup was a consolation race, but today it has metamorphosed into a Junior Olympic qualifying race for U14 skiers, aged 12 to 13. 
“It’s a big deal,” Stephanie Prater said. “They need to perform really well, because this event determines whether their season is over or if they’re going to the finale in Winter Park.”
Approximately 242 young skiers from Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico are expected to participate in four days of fun, racing, prizes and camaraderie this weekend. Once the competitors arrive, they will be assigned to one of 16 nation teams and given a Prater Cup passport. 
Throughout the weekend, teams will be expected to showcase not only superior racing scores, but also good sportsmanship and team spirit by participating in a variety of team-building exercises, such as scavenger hunts. The teams that collect the most “Prater Points” will receive prizes at the Nation Team Awards. 
“Good sportsmanship and team spirit are key aspects of this race,” Stephanie Prater explained. “You’ll see all kinds of country spirit throughout the entire mountain over the weekend—it’s very colorful.”
The emphasis on good sportsmanship and team-building in the Prater Cup sets it apart from other ski races, Prater explained, and can be credited to a former chief of race, the late Bill Sweitzer. 
“He thought it would be a great idea for all of these kids to leave this race with new friendships,” Stephanie Prater said. “He wanted to mix the different states and ski club members up so they would get to know one another on a whole different level than just ski racing.”
Having worked as the special events director for the ski area for 17 years, Stephanie Prater developed valuable relationships with ski industry sponsors, who today provide a great deal of sponsorships and prizes for the Cup. Big names brands backing this year’s event include Dakine, Oakley, Giro and many more. 
“The more that it has evolved into this ski racing festival, the more my relationship with the ski industry has helped it grow and become what it is,” Prater said. “I’ve maintained so many of my sponsor friendships and relationships that continue to provide all of these prizes that I get for the team awards.”
This year Prater raised approximately $4,000 for the Cup, a sum unprecedented in the event’s history. Extensive community support, Prater says, is the driving force behind the event each year. 
“There are so many non-profits reaching out for donations in this valley, so you never know from year to year what people are going to choose to sponsor, but they’ve never let me down,” Prater said.
“These skiers and their families are staying at our lodgings and eating at our restaurants, and they can’t wait to come to Crested Butte this one time of year,” Prater said. “It’s amazing for our economy and that’s why I think the local sponsorships have continued.”
With snowfall levels at a frightening low, it’s no surprise business owners are looking forward to the arrival of Prater Cup participants, as local folklore claims that the Cup has an eerie ability to upend a slow winter.
“It usually snows,” Prater said. “For years there has been a rumor that if you’ve had a terrible winter, the Prater Cup will make it okay. We always need that big hit right before spring break.”
As of February 16, the chances for snow during the Prater Cup ranged from 40 percent to 80 percent for one to three inches.
“Of course we are barbequing outside on Friday and it will probably be dumping,” Prater said.
For Stephanie, supporting the careers of young skiers is a passion handed down through the generations. She describes her father as a “giver” who contributed both financially and emotionally to young skiers during his short life.
“Watching a child do something that they love, backing it and providing things to make it even more fun and exciting gives you more of an energetic feeling than probably almost anything,” Prater said. “And because of my father, this is all happening.”
For Prater and Puckett, knowing that Dan’s legacy is making such a significant impact in the lives of young skiers is invaluable. If Dan were still alive, Stephanie says, he would be “humbled” at what the Prater Cup has become, and that it is held in his honor.
“I cherish this event because, for me, it brings back so many memories of the days when we were young and our children were so excited to race,” Puckett said. “And, of course, of Dan.”
“My father would be blown away every year, thinking ‘All I did was drive around a motor home, serve hot chocolate and try to get to know these kids and look what happened! What a huge thing!’” Prater said. “He would be shattered by this.”
For more information about the Prater Cup visit www.skicb.com.

 

Crested Butte News

Written by Olivia Lueckemeyer   

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Dan & Sondra Prater 

         Circa 1970's

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