Locals compete as Cone wins Saturday’s World Pro Ski Tour race

Robert Cone celebrates his victory of the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival Cup during the World Pro Ski Tour at Howelsen Hill Ski Area on Saturday. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Two years removed from his last competitive ski race, Steamboat Springs resident Alex Barounos took part in the World Pro Ski Tour.

The former Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club skier made the top 16 Saturday, bested by eventual second-place finisher and fellow Steamboat Springs resident, Garret Driller. Driller was narrowly defeated by last year’s victor, Robert Cone, who won the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival Cup.

Barounos hasn’t weaved between gates since his last NCAA championships in February 2019, so he was pleasantly surprised to have made the top 16 and wasn’t disappointed when he was bumped out by former college competitor, Driller.

“I’ve been out of the game a little while, but I wanted to come out here and have fun,” Barounos said. “It’s my first pro tour, so I was excited just to be competitive.”

When Barounos signed up for the race, he didn’t even have a pair of slalom skis anymore. So, he called up Driller and asked for a pair of skis. So, when Driller beat Barounos to advance to the top eight, he beat his own skis.

“It was Garret’s skis versus Garret’s skis,” said Barounos. “He’s so consistent, and he’s strong and he’s always been the king of ruts. Today, it was a little soft out there. He’s always finessed to generate speed in ruts. So good on him for crushing me.”

Driller, an official athlete on the 2021 World Pro Ski Tour, has been in Steamboat assistant coaching Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club U16 skiers this winter. So, Howelsen Hill is his current home hill.

He dominated his way through the top 16 and the top eight and top four, earning a spot in the finals against Cone.

World Pro Ski Tour Monday schedule

Monday, Feb. 8

12:30 p.m. Moose Barrow’s Trophy, round of 32

4:30 p.m. Alpine Bank World Pro Ski Tour Junior Challenge

7 p.m. Moose Barrow’s Trophy, round of 16 to finals

On the blue course, the slightly faster of the two, Cone crossed the finish line 0.17 seconds ahead of Driller.

“That’s close enough,” Driller said at the bottom of the hill.

In the final race, Driller was on the blue course, looking to use the slight advantage to close the time gap and come across the line first.

The race was tight. Cone had the slight advantage, but at the end, it looked like Driller had made up enough ground. At the last gate, Driller tumbled as his ski caught the inside of the gate. He skidded across the finish along with the blue gate flag.

“I just really went for it, the ski went on the wrong side of that last gate,” he said. “I went for the fall just because it was safer than trying to wrench my leg through a straddle. It looked exciting for everyone. I’m glad I could give them a show.”

Crossing the line on his feet, Cone took the first win of the 2021 World Pro Ski Tour. He wasn’t concerned with Driller knowing the hill or getting all sorts of positive attention from the announcers.

“I wasn’t really intimidated by Garret. I’ve gone up against him, but aside from that, I really try to focus on my own run,” Cone said. “I try to be consistent, deal with the terrain and the intricacies of what the snow is doing top to bottom.”

Trying to make the most of its stay in Steamboat, the World Pro Ski Tour will return to Howelsen Hill on Monday for the Moose Barrows Trophy. Ahead of the finals round of 16, the pros will aid younger skiers in the Alpine Bank World Pro Ski Tour Junior Challenge.

Since he’s already coaching some SSWSC athletes, Driller is particularly excited for that portion of the day.

“I got all my little kids I’m rooting for,” he said. “These kids are awesome skiers, and I’m excited to see where they take it.”

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