NCAA Skiing Championships
Friday: Men’s and women’s slaloms, Howelsen Hill. First run: women, 6:30 p.m.; men, 7:15 p.m. Second run: women, 9 p.m.; men, 9:30 p.m.
Saturday: Women’s 15K and men’s 20K classical races, Howelsen Hill. Men, 9 a.m., women 11 a.m. Awards ceremony, 2 p.m.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — They call slalom the “great equalizer” in skiing, and University of Colorado head coach Richard Rokos is hoping that phrase plays out in his team’s favor on Friday.
The Buffs head into Friday’s slalom races in fourth place as a team, trailing the NCAA Skiing Championships leader Montana State University by 67.5 points.
That’s a lot of ground to cover, but Rokos said the men’s and women’s Alpine squads are prepared to “put it all on the line.”
While cross-country races are typically consistent and predictable, the Alpine events, in which skiers must make sharp turns to ski between gates, can be all over the place.
One seemingly small mishap can be the difference between a skier finishing at the top of the pack or at the bottom.
“Slalom is even more tricky than (giant slalom), so we’ll have to take all the chances we can in order to recover,” Rokos said.
The title is not completely out of reach yet for the Buffs, who three years ago made up 54 points on the final day of competition to win the 2013 national championship.
After Friday’s slalom races, the Buffs’ Nordic team can also earn points in Saturday’s classical cross-country races.
CU’s six Alpine racers will be skiing under the lights at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs, where the Buffs are playing host to the championship. The slalom kicks off with the women’s first run at 6:30 p.m. and will continue late into the night with the men’s second run scheduled for 9:30 p.m.
This will be the third time in NCAA championship history that the slalom races will be held at night. It’s somewhat of a tradition at Howelsen Hill, where CU hosted the championship in 2006 and 2010.
Howelsen Hill, Colorado’s oldest continuously operated ski area, is just a few blocks west of downtown Steamboat Springs. The hill’s lights can be seen across the city.
The late start is likely to draw a good-sized crowd of spectators — CU officials say they’re expecting about 1,000 people — but CU’s Alpine skiers had somewhat mixed feelings about the timing.
Freshman Tonje Trulsrud, who finished third in the giant slalom on Wednesday, said she doesn’t think the late start will hurt CU. The forecast is calling for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-30s on Friday evening, with no chance of snow.
Visibility should be good, she said.
“I’ve done a night race before and it’s fun,” she said. “The light will make it really visible so that’s pretty good. I don’t think it will be a problem.”
After all, all of the Alpine skiers from every team will be racing at the same time, said senior Henrik Gunnarsson.
Gunnarsson didn’t finish his second giant slalom run on Wednesday, and so didn’t earn any points toward the team total. He’s hoping to redeem himself in the slalom, he said.
“We didn’t do that well in the GS so I think we have to put the gas pedal and just go as hard as we can,” he said.
With the late start, he said CU’s Alpine skiers will wake up a bit later than usual, maybe go for a jog, ski a bit and then head to the hill.
“It’s really late, so you’re going to be pretty tired,” he said, adding that though the schedule says the men’s second run starts at 9:30 p.m., it’s likely to be later than that with course delays.