STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Standing near the finish line of the giant slalom course, Jessica Honkonen held a ski pole and a black-and-gold pompom in each hand.
Wearing a Buffs hat and street clothes, the senior cheered and watched on Wednesday as her University of Colorado teammates raced without her.
Honkonen’s collegiate skiing career ended Monday after she injured her left knee during a training run in Steamboat Springs, where the Buffs are hosting the NCAA skiing championships this week.
Honkonen skied at the championships in each of her first three seasons at CU, helping the Buffs win national titles in 2013 and 2015.
This year, she’s embracing her unexpected new role as cheerleader.
“I’m excited to watch and I’m feeling pretty positive,” she said, wearing a black knee brace on the outside of her khaki pants. “The injury is done, it’s history now. It’s just a different role on the team now.”
Coach Richard Rokos called Honkonen’s injury at Howelsen Hill a “little disaster” and said her missing the championship action has deeply affected the team. He described her as one of the most experienced and consistent skiers on the Buffs’ team.
Honkonen hails from Espoo, Finland, where she said she was frequently injured before coming to Boulder. Since then, though, Honkonen has been mostly injury-free — and it’s shown in her results.
She was the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association individual slalom champion in 2015 and finished in the top 10 at 33 races during her collegiate career.
“I’m grateful for having a pretty good last four years without anything big and enjoyed every healthy year so far,” she said.
Honkonen described her injury as a “typical skier’s injury” that included a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a minor medial collateral ligament tear and damage to her meniscus. It’s her third torn ACL and one of nearly a dozen broken bones or torn ligaments throughout her lifetime of skiing.
Her mother, Anne, flew to Colorado from Finland this week to watch her daughter race for the first time in college.
Though her mom won’t get to see her ski, Honkonen said the two are still having a good time together.
“I’ve been able to be a tour guide for her, I guess on that aspect it’s not too bad,” she said. “Me having her here, it doesn’t make any difference if I’m hurt or not.”
Honkonen was replaced in CU’s championship alpine lineup by freshman Nora Christensen. She joined senior Thea Grosvold and freshman Tonje Trulsrud in the giant slalom and slalom events.
Honkonen said she doesn’t think the relatively young lineup will be a problem for CU. In fact, it may help the women’s alpine squad.
When CU won its national title in 2013, all three female alpine skiers were freshmen, Honkonen pointed out.
“We don’t have big expectations because you don’t really know where you are at,” she said. “You can kind of go with that innate skill you just have without exactly expecting anything. I don’t think it’s going to hurt them.”