NCAAs storm into Steamboat icy and fast
Steamboat Springs — Ski racers after a race usually talk about the course they just skied as they would a host’s food at a dinner party. Unless something disastrous happened, they’re likely to grin, rub their bellies and compliment the cook.
Maybe enough had time passed since Montana State University skier David Neauhauser got his first helping of the new competition venue at Steamboat Ski Area, All Out.
The venue, the result of a $2.4-million project between the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and Steamboat Ski Area, is intended to be a special beast for ski racers. Snowmaking lining the run is calibrated to blow with extra moisture to create a harder, icier surface, and ski area crews have tried to tailor the surface for fast, competitive runs.
When NCAA skiers got their first crack at All Out — in a January giant slalom race — most finishers said the right things, but Neauhauser said it wasn’t quite ideal.
“It was actually pretty bad,” he said. “The snow was quite a bit softer, and that wasn’t in my favor.”
That race was in the midst of a furious string of snowstorms, however. It did snow Wednesday, but despite that, All Out served up an entirely different impression.
The surface was hard, icy and far from friendly. It was fast, and, on the first day of the NCAA Collegiate Skiing National Championships in Steamboat Springs, it proved a worthy venue.
“I really liked the conditions,” Neauhauser said. “I like when it’s icy. I like when it’s hard. When you step on the ski, it does what you want it to do. When it’s softer, and you put force on it, you just dig into the snow.”
He managed that surface better than nearly anyone else, turning what he described as a rotten season into a fantastic finish. He came into the event with one of the worst starting spots — a nod to that frustrating season — but roared to a second-place finish Wednesday.
The only man faster was University of Utah sophomore Endre Bjertness. He was at his best on his first run, when he recorded the fastest time. His second, meanwhile, proved just fast enough, ninth for the run but, combined with that first run, good enough for his first NCAA crown.
He had a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 50.85 seconds. Neauhauser was in at 1:50.93. University of Denver skier Erik Read was third at 1:51.24.
“It’s just fun,” Bjertness said. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. We have a strong team in GS, and it was really fun to show it today.”
Steamboat Springs skier Tyler Theis ended up 26th overall.
Redemption sought and found
On the women’s side, Denver senior Kristine Haugen came into the day hoping to prove something.
By the end of it, she had.
Haugen came into this year’s NCAA championships having already won three national championships. She was tops in giant slalom as a freshman and a sophomore, then in slalom as a sophomore, as well.
Last year, however, didn’t go quite the same way.
She ended up third in both events, so she came into Wednesday with a renewed focus.
It paid off, as she won her fourth championship, this one with a dominating performance. She had the top times on both of her runs and ended up with a combined-runs time of 1:58.00, 0.59 seconds ahead of second place.
“I’ve been waiting for this, to get one more shot,” Haugen said. “This just shows I’m still on that level that I was, that I’m improving and trying really hard to become a better skier.
“Last year, I was giving it too much,” she said. “I was out of my comfort zone. This year, I didn’t think too much about winning. I just thought about having two good runs.”
Montana State’s Benedicte Lyche ended up second at 1:58.59, and University of Colorado senior Tonje Trulsrud was third in 1:59.27.
Montana State emerged from the first day of action in a strong position and in first place in the team race. The Bobcats had four skiers in the top 10 of their respective races Wednesday.
Denver wasn’t far behind, in second with 138, while Utah rounded out the top three with 123.
Skiing resumes today with the first Nordic race, set to begin at 9 a.m. at Howelsen Hill, which will serve as the venue for the rest of the event. Alpine skiers will go again Friday in slalom; then Nordic skiers will compete in their second race Saturday.
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