Kristiina Rove didn’t know exactly what she was getting herself into when she moved to Utah from Finland.

A junior alpine skier for Utah, Rove wasn’t familiar with the way Americans love collegiate sports.

2014 SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Spencer: Strong final day lifts Denver to 22nd title
Day 3 Recap: Denver takes home championship
Spencer: Harvard's Nadler focuses on keeping skiing fun
Spencer: Oedegaard aims for second consecutive title
Day 2 Recap: Gruber, Oedegaard win Classicals
Spencer: Finland native Rove finding way at Utah
Day 1 Recap: Haugen, Engel take top honors
Spencer: Utah to host, Colorado looks to defend title
Final Results | Championship Selections
“Coming here last year, I didn’t really know what this was all about – college athletics,” she said. “It’s such a huge thing here. We don’t have anything like that in Europe. I’m just starting to figure out what it’s all about.”

Now in her second year with the Utes, there is one thing Rove does know, and that’s skiing. After winning the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association Female Alpine Skier of the Year award, she’s looking forward to getting back on the slopes to help Utah bring home a long-awaited national championship.

She certainly got the Utes off to a good start on Wednesday morning at Park City Mountain Resort, shredding her way to a second-place finish in the giant slalom race.

“It’s obviously a great start for us,” Rove said. “Everyone’s going to have to keep the momentum going.”

Helping out the Utes’ quest was Chloe Fausa’s third-place finish. Kristine Haugen of Denver won the race for the second year in a row, battling the tough conditions that saw several skiers crash on their second runs.

“I can’t believe it,” Rove said about sharing the podium with a teammate. “It’s awesome.”

For Rove, winning a national championship would be the pinnacle of a skiing career that began as soon as she was able to walk.

“I have two older siblings and I was the youngest one,” she said. “As soon as I could stand up, they pretty much put me on skis. My family has always supported me really well in this and my dad’s been coaching me ever since I was a kid.”

Some of her fondest memories involve her family and the slopes.

“I just remember these family trips we did to northern Finland to the ski resorts,” she said. “Every time we had a vacation that everyone could go together, it’s just the thing we did.”

Eventually, she’d find her way to ski racing, where she’s had a storied career both at Utah and in Finland.

But, though Rove, a business administration major, has proven she’s one of the best collegiate alpine skiers in the country, she’s not even sure which of the two races – slalom and giant slalom – is her best event.

“It keeps changing,” she said. “I’m trying to figure it out. Am I a GS skier? Am I a slalom skier? Right now, I’m both.”

At last year’s NCAA Championships, Rove finished fourth in the giant slalom and 11th in the slalom. But, after taking the top spot in the slalom race at the NCAA Western Regional, she’s still trying to figure out her specialty.

Maybe, though, she’s just as good in both disciplines.

“Well, I hope so,” she said when asked if she now could consider herself a GS skier. “But, after Friday, I hope it’s safe to say I’m a slalom skier, too.”

In the future, she has dreams of representing Finland in the Olympics. But, with one more year still to go at Utah, that’s on the backburner for now.

“Of course, that would be awesome,” she said. “It’s kind of far away since the Olympics were just a few weeks ago, so I can’t really predict what’s going to happen. Right now, I’m just trying to become better and better. I’m just enjoying this environment [at Utah] and trying to improve as much as I can as an individual athlete.”

After Friday’s slalom race, her racing aspirations will be temporarily set aside and she’ll simply focus on enjoying skiing without the pressure of podium finishes weighing on her.

“We’re in Utah, so obviously I want to ski as much as I can, even when we’re not training anymore in the spring,” she said. “That’s my favorite time of the year – in the spring when the races are done and we can just go to Snowbird [a resort in Salt Lake City] and just have fun there. It’s great.”