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CU skiing: Weight of hosting a national championship falls on Buffs’ shoulders

  • Colorado skiing head coach Richard Rokos drew double duty this...

    Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer

    Colorado skiing head coach Richard Rokos drew double duty this week, hosting the NCAA championships while trying to coach the defending national champions to another victory.

  • Colorado skiing assistant coach Fletcher McDonald prepares a ski for...

    Joel Reichenberger / For the Daily Camera

    Colorado skiing assistant coach Fletcher McDonald prepares a ski for Wednesday's giant slalom race in Steamboat Springs.

  • Colorado skier Thea Grosvold flies down the giant slalom course...

    Joel Reichenberger / For the Daily Camera

    Colorado skier Thea Grosvold flies down the giant slalom course Wednesday in the NCAA Skiing Championships hosted by CU at Steamboat Springs.



STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Half an hour after his team’s disappointing performance in the giant slalom earlier this week, University of Colorado head coach Richard Rokos was nowhere to be found.

He was unloading equipment from a team van at Howelsen Hill, already preparing for the next day’s events at the NCAA Skiing Championships, which CU is hosting in Steamboat Springs.

It’s hard work hosting a championship and trying to coach the defending national championship team to another victory.

“You have to be everywhere,” Rokos said. “You want to help the athletes, you want to make sure they have everything and you cooperate with your assistants and everything, but at the same time, part of it is to make sure everything outside is working, which is not normal for a regular race.”

CU learned in December 2013 that it would play host to the 2016 event. It’s the fourth time the Buffs have hosted the championship in Steamboat Springs, including 1996, 2006 and 2010. The Buffs won two of their 19 championships here in 1979 and 2006.

It’s the 13th time the state of Colorado has hosted the skiing championships — Winter Park, Crested Butte and Durango have also played host. The Buffs have won six titles in Colorado and the University of Denver has won four in its home state.

Hosting a championship race with 148 skiers — 74 men and 74 women — takes lots of collaboration between the host school, which is led this year by CU’s director of digital marketing Curtis Snyder, and officials at Steamboat Ski Resort and Howelsen Hill.

“One of the reasons we like coming here is they do a really professional job, they know how to put on quality races,” said Bruce Cranmer, CU’s Nordic coach.

Even with support from dozens of people who made the championship a reality this week, Rokos said he feels the pressure to put on a successful event.

“Organizing this event takes a little more away from coaching and concentration on the race because even if you have lots of people working around you and helping you, in the end of it, everybody looks at you,” he said. “Did you do it right? So obviously you are trying to do it right and I think it’s an honor being the organizer, but at the same time it’s a little burden with what’s on top of a normal process of competition.”

CU and Steamboat Springs

Rokos was nothing but complimentary of Steamboat Ski Resort, which hosted the giant slalom races on Wednesday, and Howelsen Hill, where the rest of the Alpine and Nordic events are being held.

The hill is a few blocks west of downtown Steamboat Springs and can accommodate both downhill and cross-country events with ease, a rarity, according to Rokos.

Howelsen’s history is unique, too. The hill, which opened in 1915, is Colorado’s oldest continuously operated ski area and has served as the training ground for more than 79 Olympic athletes.

“It’s a fantastic place,” Rokos said. “In terms of location, it doesn’t have a parallel with any other NCAA venue. It’s right in town, walking distance to everywhere. It’s practically an unseen situation where Nordic and Alpine are in the same area.”

CU has a connection to Steamboat Ski Resort, where the giant slalom races were held on the first day of the championships. Billy Kidd, director of skiing at the resort, is a 1969 CU graduate and a world champion.

At the 1964 Olympics, Kidd and CU alum Jimmie Huega became the first American men to win medals in Alpine skiing, Kidd taking home the silver medal and Huega scooping up the bronze in slalom.

There are other little connections between CU and this town, including current and former team members who hail from Steamboat. Though they aren’t competing in the championships this week, CU juniors Max Scrimgeour, Katie Hostetler and Lucy Newman all skied for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club before coming to Boulder.

Cowboy hats ‘a big hit’

After winning the men’s 10-kilometer freestyle cross-country title at Howelsen Hill on Thursday, CU junior Mads Stroem stood atop the podium waving a giant Buffs flag and wearing a cowboy hat.

It’s become a bit of a tradition for CU to give out cowboy hats to the top three finishers.

The crowning of the skiers on the podium started in 2010 and stuck, said Snyder.

“They were a big hit,” he said. “Normally there’s some kind of fun gift for the top three. It’s syrup in Vermont, etc.”

Phinney family

At least one other Olympic medalist is in Steamboat Springs this week. Boulder’s Davis Phinney, an Olympic bronze medalist, U.S. national road race champion and Tour de France stage winner, is in town to cheer for his daughter Kelsey Phinney.

Kelsey Phinney, a Boulder High School graduate, is a Nordic skier for Middlebury College in Vermont. She’s the younger sister of local cycling phenom Taylor Phinney and the daughter of Olympic cyclist and speed skater Connie Carpenter-Phinney.

Sarah Kuta: 303-473-1106, or