Howelsen Hill to host spur-of-the-moment skimeister state championship

Steamboat Springs Nordic skier Caroline Bauer finished fifth at a home race at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center on Friday afternoon. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A skimeister is an athlete who decides to compete in both the high school Alpine and Nordic disciplines. It’s not an official event designated by the Colorado High School Activities Association, but it’s still a coveted crown all the same.

Skimeister is typically earned over the course of the regular season as competitors take part in three Alpine and three Nordic races. Ahead of the state championships, a male and female winner are named.

This year, with a limited schedule, any skimeister participants had to qualify for state in both Nordic and Alpine, a feat few skimeisters can accomplish since they tend to be very good at one discipline and OK at the other. Of the six Steamboat skiers competing in Alpine and Nordic, just one qualified in both.

“I thought this isn’t fair,” said Steamboat Alpine head coach Mike Farny. “These kids have been doing both trainings all year long, most of them are seniors, and they’re not going to have a chance to compete.”

So, three weeks ago, Farny started throwing together the idea of a Skimeister Championship, and on Tuesday, that idea will come to fruition with a four-race day in which every skimeister in Colorado will compete for a championship.

In past years, the skimeister recognition was decided from a pool of just 20 or so athletes statewide, but this year, there are 25 boys and 19 girls taking part. Their placements from each race will be added together to determine the winner.

“It’s something that’s gotten somehow more popular,” Farny said. “We’re super excited that we can then give these athletes a venue to compete for a championship.”

Skimeister schedule

Tuesday, March 9

11 a.m. Women’s 3K Classic

11:40 a.m. Men’s 3K Classic

1:20 p.m. Women’s Giant Slalom

1:50 p.m. Men’s Giant Slalom

2:30 p.m. Women’s Slalom

3 p.m. Men’s Slalom

4:10 p.m. Women’s 3K Skate

4:45 p.m. Men’s 3K Skate

5:30 p.m. Awards

The venue was the easy part: Howelsen Hill Ski Area, where the Alpine team typically competes. The rest of the necessary equipment was more challenging. Farny will lay the slalom and giant slalom courses while Nordic coach Jesse Wilkins will create the skate and classic courses on the nearby Nordic trails.

Farny still needed a timing system, a P.A. system and safe places for athletes to change, and that’s where parents and locals stepped up to help pull off the event on short notice.

The Steamboat Group donated enough money to buy a chip timing system, which the team has tested in training a few times now, and huts at the base of Howelsen will be used as changing areas for athletes. The Steamboat Ski Touring Center is loaning its course boards and international flags, which will give the event a World Cup feel.

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Farny said Betsy Bauer and Dave and Beth Gowdy also have helped plan the event.

Two Steamboat athletes could win the title of 2021 Skimeister. Alden Wade is one of the best Alpine skiers in the state and is in his second year of trying Nordic skiing. If he wins the Alpine races, a top-eight finish in the Nordic races would give him a fighting chance at the title.

“He’s got a really good shot,” Wilkins said. “I think of all the kids who are Alpine specialists, he’s probably going to be the best Nordic kid, so that gives him a really good shot at winning the whole thing overall.”

Zoe Bennet-Manke is the opposite. She’s a frequent winner of Nordic races and decided to take on Alpine racing as well.

“She didn’t even have Alpine boots,” Farny said. “Finally, she found some boots, and she has improved more than any athlete I’ve ever coached. If she was 12 or 13 years old, she would be a really good Alpine ski racer if she focused on it. Every night, she improves 50%; it’s unbelievable.”

As is the nature of the sport, the winner won’t be clear until the end of the day, so it promises to be an exciting day full of competitive races.

“I’m excited to promote this next year and get more kids to do it, and it can really become an event all on its own,” Farny said.

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