Andrews chasing goals at World Juniors |

Andrews chasing goals at World Juniors

Steamboat Springs skiers Grant Andrews, 41, and Koby Vargas, 36, charge up a hill during the first Junior World Championships Nordic combined race last week in Park City, Utah.

— Grant Andrews took the big dive a year ago.

Nordic combined had always been his sport, and he shined growing up with it in Steamboat Springs, refining his skills at Howelsen Hill, and as he approached the midway point of his senior year at Steamboat Springs High School, he took a gamble and decided to graduate early, in January.

The idea was that would free him up to spend the next couple of months in Europe, competing at big events such as the World Junior Nordic Ski Championships while cutting his teeth on the Continental Cup circuit, the Nordic combined competitions that rank a step below the World Cup.

Except, it didn’t quite work out that way.

"I didn't make the Continental Cup circuit or World Juniors, so I was just training," he said. "I definitely missed out, but at the same time, I had bigger goals in mind."

A year later, things are coming together for Andrews, who competed twice last week in World Juniors events in Park City and will compete Saturday in that event's final Nordic combined competition, a jump off the HS100 jump and a 5-kilometer race at Solider Hollow.

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He's also been able to log his first starts on the Continental Cup this winter and, if things go well Saturday, could be looking at a spot on the U.S. Nordic combined team.

"I definitely missed out on that last semester of high school, but I had the goal of making the U.S. Ski Team and getting up to the professional level in my sport," he said. “I was focused enough to be like, 'OK. I'll sacrifice this and get it done with my sport.'"

It may be happening now.

Andrews, 19 years old, came just short of qualifying for World Juniors a year ago, edged out at the finish line in Steamboat at a crucial qualifier.

This year, however, things weren't nearly as close. He dominated in the one qualifying event that took place in Steamboat in December, winning with ease. He then did well enough in the rest to easily be among the six Nordic combined athletes selected. (Fellow Steamboat skiers Koby Vargas and Elijah Vargas also made the cut.) 

He also earned those Continental Cup starts, which proved eye-opening, in their own way. He competed twice in Finland and twice in Estonia.

"It was tough. The jumping was really quite tough, but the cross-country racing was actually even tougher than the jumping," Andrews said. "The guys on the Continental Cup are far faster than they are here (at World Juniors.)"

His best finish was 36th after jumping to 31st. He was 39th, 40th and 44th in the other races.

Results wise, his competitions at World Juniors have been similar, so far. He jumped to 41st place in the first event, but, after climbing the rankings in the ski race, crashed midway through the race and saw all his gains disappear. He ended up 44th.

Stephan Schumann was 10th in that race for the U.S. Ben Loomis was 18th and Koby Vargas 37th.

A U.S. relay team with Andrews, Loomis, Schumann and Elijah Vargas then placed seventh Thursday. They jumped to sixth before losing one spot in a 20K race.

Despite those back-in-the-pack results, Andrews is heading into the final competition with enthusiasm.

"It's been a pretty good week," he said. "I was feeling pretty good skiing, pretty confident."

One thing remains to be accomplished, however. A top-20 finish would earn him a spot on the U.S. team. He began the chase in earnest a year ago when he graduated early. He moved in the spring to Park City to focus on that goal and spent three months living in Europe, dedicated to it.

He's hoping he's ready to earn it.

"It's one step at a time," he said. "I'm feeling pretty good about it."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

Steamboat at World Juniors

Nordic combined

37thKoby Vargas, HS100, 10K, Tuesday

44th — Grant Andrews, HS100, 10K, Tuesday

7th — Andrews, Elijah Vargas, Ben Loomis, Stephen Schumann, HS100, 20K relay, Thursday

Ski Jumping

38th — Logan Sankey, HS100, Wednesday

8thSankey, Cara Larson, Samantha Macuga, Gabriella Armstrong, HS100 Team competition, Friday

Cross-country skiing

19th — Wyatt Gebhardt, 10K freestyle, Wednesday

12th — Gebhardt, 20K skiathlon, Friday