MIDDLEBURY, Vt. -– Jonathan Nordbotten won the men's giant slalom race on the opening day of the 2013 NCAA Ski Championships to lead the Vermont Catamounts to a 16.5-point lead on the Denver Pioneers after the first day at the Middlebury Snow Bowl on Wednesday.

Nordbotten finished the first run in sixth place, but bounced back with the fastest time of the day, 1:00.62, in his second run.  Nordbotten had to anxiously wait for five other skiers to finish before he was able to claim his first national championship.

“That was nerve-wracking,” said Nordbotten. “You're almost more nervous watching that than standing on the start because down here you don't know what to do.”

Nordbotten beat out Jeremy Elliot of Utah and Coley Oliver of New Hampshire by .06 seconds each.  Both skiers finished tied for second with a time of 2:03.18.

Ironically, Nordbotten is the first Catamount to win a national title in the men's giant slalom since David Donaldson won the title in 2009.  Donaldson now competes for Middlebury College.

Senior Sean Higgins, making his NCAA debut, moved up from 13th after the first run and finished fifth.  Travis Dawson rounded out the UVM skiers in 14th place.

Higgins and Nordbotten both earned first team All-America honors for their efforts.

The women kicked off the NCAA Championships with their giant slalom race in the morning. The Catamounts finished 3-5-11 in the event and were led by Kristina Riis-Johannessen's third-place finish.

Kristine Haugen of Denver beat the field by an impressive 1.33 seconds to earn the victory. Brooke Wales of Colorado was second with a time of 2:05.93, while Johannessen earned a spot on the podium at the NCAAs for the second time in three races with her two-run total of 2:06.02.

Kate Ryley earned a top-five finish for the fifth consecutive time in the NCAAs, finishing fifth overall with a time of 2:06.71.  Ryley, the defending NCAA Slalom Champion, also earned her fifth first team All-America honor in as many races.

Elli Terwiel rounded out the UVM contingent, finishing 11th with a two-run total of 2:08.16.

The NCAA Championships continue Thursday with the first day of Nordic races.