Feb. 22, 2006 - Tucked away in a closet at home sits a relic of winter sports, a snowboard. It's collecting dust along with an extra microwave and holiday decorations.

It must sit in there, day and night, pining for colder days whipping down an ice mountainside.

Keep dreaming, snowboard.

The Winter Olympics are now in full force and have gripped the nation's interest in obscure, cold sports. It's been four years since the nation even thought about random sports such as skeleton, two-man luge and biathlon.

Ever a fan of the bizarre, especially when it comes to unique sports, I got to thinking: Where can I find the Olympics in the Northwest, Tucson or even Southern Arizona?

Plenty of athletes with ties to Southern Arizona have competed in the summer Olympics. Who can forget Kerri Strug landing a perfect vault on a badly injured ankle to seal a gold medal against the Russians in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta?

But how many winter games athletes can you name from Tucson?

The answer is not many, if any.

For the obvious reasons - heat mostly - Southern Arizona is just not the place to find winter sports. But that's not to say that the opportunities aren't there in at least some of the more mainstream sports.

What either the Northwest or Foothills areas needs is an ice rink. As of right now, the Tucson metro area has two and for someone from the Northwest to venture down to them requires packing a lunch.

At Tucson Ice, on the southeast side of Tucson, you can find a wide variety of skating events - including one from Feb. 23 through Feb. 26 called the Rodeoskate, which sounds like an event that could be added if Texas were ever to be awarded the winter games.

If figure skating is becoming more popular these days there's a chance that it's more of a result of Fox's Skating with the Stars - the term "stars" being used loosely - than it is from the Olympics.

Tucson Ice, formerly known as Polar Ice, is home to a handful of ice hockey players from the Northwest and Foothills. After all, ice hockey provided the country with one of the most indelible Olympic images in 1980 with the Miracle on Ice.

The rink does specialize in private and community skating lessons. But still, no Tucson hockey players or figure skaters have ever gone on to the Olympics.

But the option to compete in Olympic winter sports is there. As for other winter sports, the choices begin to dwindle faster than the snow on Mount Lemmon.

A call to Tucson Ice about curling - an Olympic sport with a cult-like following since 1924 - was met with an awkward moment of silence before the woman on the phone admitted, "I don't know what that is."

Skiing is the other logical answer for the anti-snowbird.

Good luck trying to ski Mount Lemmon this winter - a severe drought has left the mountain dry. The Tucson-metro area's only ski respite has accumulated a paltry half-inch of snow this season. It takes at least 18-inches to ski. That's a significant drop off from the 200-inches of snow that usually collects on the mountain from December through March.

So where else can you find winter sports in Southern Arizona?

I didn't even try looking for snowboard cross, which might as well be called roller derby on snow. How this is an Olympic sport and baseball and softball are not is beyond me. Still, like an auto wreck, it's hard not to watch.

The newest of Olympic games, snowboard cross is the epitome of why the winter games are a popular draw. Put anyone going 40-mph on snow and ice and good watching is sure to follow.

But there are little to no places to catapult someone down a mountain or across a sheet of ice in Southern Arizona.

Until there are, we'll just have to watch from afar. And the snowboard in the closet will continue to collect more dust than snow.

Christopher Wuensch is a staff writer covering sports. He can be reached at 797-4384 ext. 112 or by e-mail at cwuensch@explorernews.com.

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