It's extra special for Buffs senior Max Lamb.
"There's definitely emotions," Lamb said of the event named for his good friend and former CU skier. "It's tough, but at the same time it's motivating."
Nelson, who was from Winter Park, died on Aug. 16, 2010, in a hiking accident near Aspen. Just 20 years old at the time, Nelson was preparing for his sophomore season with the Buffs.
Since last year, the Buffs have honored his life by naming its annual home invitational after Nelson. The event takes place Tuesday and Wednesday at Eldora Mountain Resort.
"Spencer was our dear friend and a skier here," Buffs head coach Richard Rokos said.
With so many of the nation's top teams coming to this event, including Denver, Utah and New Mexico, Lamb said the Buffs feel pressure to perform at their home invitational. Adding Nelson's legacy to the event adds to the pressure, he said.
"This is still the generation that knew Spencer and skied with Spencer, so there's pressure with that, too," he said.
Over time, the emotions associated with this event have changed.
"There's no sorrow involved in it; it's more (remembering) good times," Lamb said.
More than most on the CU team, Lamb had plenty of good times with Nelson and his parents, Peggy Smith and Peter Nelson.
"My (first) year out of high school that I just spent racing, trying to make the national team, I lived with him and his parents," Lamb said.
Nelson's parents are heavily involved with this event, which makes it more special for Lamb and others. Peggy and Peter created and support a fund at CU, which helps to offset the cost of running this meet. They also purchase and donate the awards given to the top skiers; the awards are specially-made belt buckles.
"I'd really like a belt buckle, personally," Lamb said. "It would mean a lot to me and I know it mean a lot to Peter and Peggy. They want to see everybody succeed, especially because the college racing scene is such a tight-knit community that it doesn't make too much of a difference for them, but I know if they could give one to me or the other kid who lived with Spencer that year (Chris Acosta of New Mexico), they'd be very happy to see that."
While the Buffs are sure to take some time to remember Nelson - who would have been a senior on this year's team - they also know they need to take care of business on the slopes. They will compete in the giant slalom on Tuesday and the slalom on Wednesday.
"The level of competition is very high and we are obviously trying to stay in the pack," said Rokos, whose team finished third at the NCAA championships last year. "My expectation is to go to every meet and do well, but it's even more (at a home meet). Everybody is looking forward to coming and doing the best."
Today at Eldora, the Buffs will compete in a Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) qualifier in the giant slalom. ... The Nordic portion of the Spencer James Memorial will take place Jan. 12-13 at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs.
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