ELDORA - The defending national champion Colorado opened the 2012 season with a strong alpine performance Friday, as senior Katie Hartman captured the giant slalom to pace six top-10 Buffalo finishes in the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) Qualifier No. 1.

No team scores were kept, as this was first of two qualifiers for the alpine racers.  CU's annual invitational, which has been renamed the Spencer Nelson Memorial, begins with the giant slalom races. The slalom is set for Sunday and the Nordic competition will take place next weekend in Steamboat Springs.

Hartman's win was nothing short of incredible, considering that 11 months ago she tore her ACL and MCL knee ligaments while competing in the World University Games in Erzurum, Turkey. She had the second fastest time in the morning run and followed it up with the third quickest the second time down Eldora's La Belle Dame course for a two-run time of 1:56.54. That bested Utah's Anna Kocken by four one-hundredths of a second; CU senior Erika Ghent claimed third in 1:56.62, as she had the fastest second run time in the field after placing fourth her first time down.

"I've just been trying to get back into it after being out for 10 months after tearing up my knee," Hartman said. "I guess you can't ask for a better start. The conditions were rough - I thought it [second run] was completely opposite sides of the spectrum [from the first run].  It didn't feel that great but I guess charging through fighting does reward you. It was good the team did really well today.

"This race means a lot to our team, to start here at Eldora, to start our season after winning last year and trying to come back and defend our title," she added. "And to do it knowing that Spence is kind of watching us ... is awesome."

Four top-10 finishers for the women was a good way to start the season. We'll hope to keep it that way.
-- Colorado head coach Richard Rokos

Ghent summed up second run performance simply by saying, "I just went down the hill a little bit more aggressively than on the first run."

Senior Carolina Nordh took seventh in 1:59.03, with newcomer Shane McLean, a freshman from Steamboat Springs, finishing ninth in 1:59.31. Junior Khyla Burrows placed 19th (2:01.56) and senior Jennifer Allen 28th (2:13.42) rounded out the CU women's efforts Friday.

In the men's GS, the Buffaloes placed three in the top 13, as freshman Adam Zika led the way with a fifth-place effort in 1:55.26; Petter Brenna won the race in 1:54.56, as the former New Mexico skier has transferred to Westminster (Utah) College for graduate school. Senior Eric Davis was eighth in 1:56.08, while junior Max Lamb was 13th in 1:56.61; the top-14 skiers were separated by just a hair over two seconds.

Zika was 13th after his morning run, but zoomed down La Belle with the fastest clocking for the 60-plus skier field (59.59) to zoom into fifth. "I had a little better feeling than the first run," he said. "I tried to crush the second run because I was 12th or so after the first run so I wanted to go fast and be in the top 10 at least. So it was pretty good. I was excited about this race because it was my first college race for CU. I'm excited about all of this. I like to race for the team [points] more."

Davis was sixth after the first run. "I was pretty happy with where I was after the first run, and I was feeling confident going into the second run. It felt like I was doing what I needed to do, staying on line, then I just ran into trouble about midway down and shot out of the course a little bit and lost a little time. I would have liked to move up for sure and I think I could have if I hadn't made a mistake but, you can't be disappointed with a top 10."

"It was definitely pretty rough [conditions], so you have to change your tactics going into that stuff.  It wasn't really affecting me much because I knew it was coming, but it definitely gave a lot of people trouble which made opportunities for other people.  It was great getting used to the hill and getting used to race mode before we start scoring for the team. We look for better things for tomorrow."

Rounding out the CU men was sophomore Fletcher McDonald, who was 27th in a 2:01.47 time. Senior Taggart Spenst was disqualified on his first run, and sophomore Andreas Haug did not finish his second run after placing seventh for his first run.

Head coach Richard Rokos marveled at the performance of his senior skier and a team leader, Hartman. "I told her, it's less than a year and it's an accomplishment. Between those injuries there is always a little time lapse and less than a year she's right where she finished last year. It was an emotional year for her and for her to come back out and win, that's an accomplishment above and beyond everything you could imagine."

Rokos thought it was important to get a good result that wasn't team dependent. "Absolutely essential, this is the race where everybody can turn it on without regard to teammates or any scoring, so it's a very important result. Everybody was going for it, because there was nothing else involved just pure racing and qualifying."

On starting the season and defending the championship on CU's home mountain, Rokos noted that, "It's great, but we didn't get much training on it so our confidence level is not as much as it could be. We just came on this hill a week ago and have had three days of training, and that's relatively very little. It's not that much home advantage, it's just being home and feeling good about it.

"Four top-10 finishers for the women was a good way to start the season. We'll hope to keep it that way."

Colorado and Utah are the two newest members of the Pac-12 Conference, but were longtime rivals the first 60 years of the last century before parting ways in most sports.  But the ski rivalry flourished and the two, at least after one race, appear to be set to engage in a fierce completion this winter.  If Friday's races were scored, CU edged the Utes 131-127 in the women's GS, with the Utes getting the nod in men's race, 115-99 (with Anchorage in-between with 101).

"Utah has got a great team," Hartman said.  "They have always been strong, so we have a great competition. All these teams bring different aspects to our circuit. Our team has been working hard. I'm really proud, stepping up and knowing that we're having to defend something that's really hard to get in the first place, we all know what to do this season and it's going to be a good one."