HANCOCK, Vt. — Denver’s Kristine Haugen came to the national championships as the giant slalom favorite, having won every collegiate race in the discipline so far this year. Under cloudy skies at the Middlebury Snow Bowl, Haugen, a native of Lommedalen, Norway, lived up to the hype by delivering two blistering runs, claiming the national title and helping push her team into second place overall at the meet.

Expectations can be overwhelming sometimes, so Denver’s head alpine coach Andy LeRoy reframed them with regards to Haugen.

Haugen

“I think expectations are a tough thing in sports. As a coach, I find myself hoping more than expecting,” LeRoy said after the victory. “The work she’s put in and the level she’s attained this year, it wasn’t a surprise by any means, having won all six college races and four of the NorAms.”

For Haugen, who started at Denver this January as a freshman, the pressure was easily managed. She channeled her energy into focusing on both tactics and technique in the race.

“I’ve been really working on getting speed on the flats and I’ve got this little technique, so I think it’s working. I was a little nervous for the top part of the pitch,” she said.

Haugen had struggled during official training on the competition hill earlier in the week, especially with her entrance to a blind gate typically set on the first steep section of the course. Her first run, though shy of flawless, was still fast enough to take the lead.

After the first run of the race, Haugen was a half second ahead of the nearest competitor, Kristina Riis-Johannessen, who is also from Norway but who skis for Vermont. That lead was exactly the amount Haugen was looking for.

“I’m happy. That’s kind of where I wanted to sit, so it’s good,” she said between runs.

But on the second course, a much faster and more direct set than run one, Colorado’s Brooke Wales skied the run of her life to move from fifth into the lead. Wales is a former U.S. Ski Team athlete who specialized in the speed disciplines of super-G and downhill, and her experience racing in a tight tuck paid off. Haugen could not ski conservatively and still win; she would have to attack.

“For sure I was nervous, but I knew that I didn’t have a perfect run first run, and I still won that. So I just wanted to try to ski better,” Haugen said.

She ultimately won the second run as well and took the win against Wales by 1.33 seconds.

Haugen selected Denver for school partly because her older brother, Leif Kristian, helped the Pioneers win their third consecutive NCAA championship in 2010 when he also took home the individual giant slalom title. He is now a standard fixture on the World Cup circuit, competing for Norway in the most prestigious races in the sport where he has two top-10 results so far this season.

“I think he’ll be happy for me,” Kristine said after her win. “He just told me to smile from the top to the bottom...and that’s what I tried to do.”

Advice from someone who has been at the top is definitely worth taking, especially when he is her brother.