Skiers test skills, grit on steep-pitched slopes of Howelsen Hill
Steamboat Springs — The formula for winning at Howelsen Hill sounds simple when explained by local ski racer Will McConnell, but for those testing their skills on the steep-pitched terrain of Howelsen Hill during the Holiday Classic, a victory is never easy.
“I love racing at Howelsen Hill. It’s probably the best slalom hill in all of Colorado,” McConnell said Monday after posting an eighth-place finish in the first of three slalom races this week. “I’ve raced everywhere, and I just love the steeps here. It’s kind of a sprint to the finish that requires really good technical skiing.”
McConnell also understands how a small mistake can be the difference between first and eighth places.
On Monday, the local ski racer made a mistake on the top portion of the course, and it cost him seconds on his final time and places in the final results.
McConnell was able to shake off the mistake and lay down one of the fastest second-run times of the day, but it wouldn’t be enough to get him on the podium. On Monday, he was the top Steamboat Springs racer, and his second-run effort moved him from 18th after the first run to eighth in the final standings.
“This is my favorite race of the season,” McConnell said. “It’s got an awesome hometown atmosphere, and there is almost always a big crowd to watch the race under the lights. It’s a great environment and lots of fun.”
McConnell said he would love to win one of the races, but he understands that the competition is going to be tough, so he is entering the final two races with realistic expectations and a formula that has been followed by most of the ski racers who have found success at Howelsen.
“Just charge and be technically smart all the way down on both runs,” McConnell said. “The goal is to put to clean runs together, and hopefully, lay down the fastest combined time.”
That was the strategy Isak Klein used to win the opening event Monday with a time of 1 minute, 23.12 seconds. The skier from Sweden, who comes for the University of New Mexico, raced past second-place finisher Florian Szwebel (1:25.51) and third-place finisher Arie Van Vuuren (1:25.83).
McConnell, who is a senior at Steamboat Springs High School, was the top local finisher at 1:27.31.
“The top was very good,” Klein said after the race. “I felt good through the flat before the big pitch.”
But at that point, things got interesting for the skier who had never raced in the United States before Monday’s events. He said he came close to skiing off-course several times on the final steep pitch but was able to hold his line and finish the course.
In the finish area after the race, Klein said he had a new sense of confidence heading into the final two slaloms — including Tuesday night’s main event.
“It’s always good for your confidence to win,” Klein said. “This was my first time on this hill. It’s steep, it’s short and has a high tempo.”
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