The NCAA circuit kicked off with two successful days of racing, starting the season on a positive note with four giant slalom races at the Denver Invitational in Aspen, Colo., on Jan. 10 and 11.

Aspen had immaculate conditions for the opener — cold, blue skies and overnight freezing created a rock hard grippy and fast surface that kept solid without grooming. The surface continued to harden throughout the weekend, and unfortunately seemed to catch up with some athletes, who Andy LeRoy, head coach of the University of Denver (DU), speculates didn’t have the milage or experience leading up to aggressive conditions for the first race of the year. 

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“It was a little tough to see some of the injuries that were out there,” LeRoy said after the races. “It was hard snow and we saw athletes without the strength or tactic have some pretty aggressive falls. You never like to see kids go down, and I expect this next team captain’s (meeting) is one where we will spend a decent amount of time asking how their athletes are.” 

Despite the crashes, which chipped away at the overall enthusiasm of the weekend, there were many successes to celebrate. Each team brought their highest level of skiing in a year with limited or no other races prior to the invitational. Athletes were conscious about what was taking place in their body and around them. They kept their distance and wore masks everywhere, except during their race run. LeRoy feels it was a victorious step to get back into racing, something that all teams shared hesitancy about prior. 

“It was an amazing event,” said LeRoy. “I was excited to get back out there and just see the comradery and teams again, and the athletes out there were ecstatic. I hope the East feeds off this a little bit, and this gives them a bit of confidence to charge forward with their programs.”

The women opened the weekend on Sunday in back-to-back GS races, with both collegiate and independent athletes making their appearance on the podium. Julia Toivianinen of Westminster College picked up her first career win and helped the school take the lead following the women’s giant slalom races. The sophomore was able to combine two runs for a strong finish in the afternoon, landing her in the top spot and bringing home 200 points to the Westminster team. However, it was independent racer and DU alum Storm Klomhaus who won the race by a resounding 1.77 seconds in the first GS race; she did not finish the second. 

It was a strong day for the Westminster team, placing three skiers in the top five of each race. Going into the men’s race, Westminster (200) had a 52-point lead over second-place Montana State (148), with Utah in third with 129 points. The ladies from Alaska Anchorage also produced strong results, landing them in fourth (113) followed by University of Colorado in fifth (112), Colorado Mountain in sixth (80), and DU in seventh (20) with only one skier competing.

Nellie Talbot hits the podium in both races to kick off the season in Aspen.

Westminster (200) has a 52-point edge over second-place Montana State (148) following the first day of the DU Invitational. Nellie Talbot anchored Montana State during the competition by reaching the podium in both races, grabbing second place in the first race and third in the second, finishing just two-tenths of a second behind Utah’s Madison Hoffman. The Utes, who sat in third with 129 points, earned a spot on the podium in the morning, as well, with Hoffman’s teammate Katie Parker in third. 

“There were great conditions,” said Katie Parker, University of Utah skier. “It was so fun to be able to race with the team again.”

The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and the University of Colorado (CU) joined Westminster in producing multiple skiers in the top 10. UAA’s Georgia Burgess and Rebecca Fiegl were sixth and seventh, while CU’s Emma Hammergaard and Andrea Arnold were eighth and ninth. The standings going into the men’s race rounded out with Alaska Anchorage in fourth (113), Colorado in fifth (112), Colorado Mountain College in sixth (80) and Denver in seventh (20), as the host only had one skier competing.

Utah’s Rosberg Voello snags double win

The men woke up to the same conditions for the GS races on Jan. 11, clear skies and hard snow. The men had fierce competition going into the day, but ultimately Gustav Rosberg Voello of the University of Utah took the top spot of both GS races. CU skier Filip Forejtek was 0.41 seconds behind Voello in the first run, followed by a 0.01 difference in third and fourth place between two Westminster skiers, Mikkel Solbakken and Joachim Mjelde. Utah skier Addison Dvoracek and Tomas Birkner De Miguel rounded out the top 10 for their team, finishing fifth and tenth, respectively. 

In the second run it was Westminster skier Solbakken who finished 0.57 behind Voello and CU skier Forejtek rounding out the podium in third. CU made their mark in the men’s races, surpassing Alaska Anchorage in the team standings who had a long top 10 finish from Didrik Langmoen Nilsen in eighth. Montana State skiers had a strong showing in the second race, with Aage Solheim and Louis Muhlen-Schulte finishing fifth and sixth. Once again the Utes had three skiers in the top 10 to extend their lead over Montana State in overall standings. 

The Westminster men were able to capitalize on their lead from the ladies and hold onto the overall standing (359) going into the slaloms. Utah (307) surpassed Montana State (281) into second, and Montana State stayed close in third Colorado (270) moved into fourth ahead of Alaska Anchorage (195) with Colorado Mountain College in sixth (121), and the small team representing DU in seventh (71).

Following the Denver invitational the entire field moved to Eldora Ski Area for two days of slalom races on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of the Spencer James Nelson Colorado Memorial Invitational. The women will participate in two slalom races today, followed by the men who will compete in two slalom races on Wednesday.

Team Standings

1. Westminster (359)
2. Utah (307)
3. Montana State (281)
4. Colorado (270)
5. Alaska Anchorage (195)
6. Colorado Mountain (121)
7. Denver (71)
8. Alaska Fairbanks (DNP)

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