When the NCAA Skiing Championships descend on Park City Mountain Resort and Soldier Hollow in Utah beginning Wednesday, there will be a number of questions in need of answers.
Will Colorado be able to defend its title from last season? Or will Utah, hosts of this year’s championships, be able to keep its momentum going after narrowly defeating the Buffaloes in the Western Regional?
Those questions, and more, will be settled on the slopes of PCMR on Wednesday (giant slalom) and Friday (slalom) and on the trails of Soldier Hollow on Thursday (classic) and Saturday (freestyle).
Eight schools -- Colorado, Utah, Vermont, Dartmouth, Alaska-Anchorage, New Mexico, Montana State and Denver -- are bringing the maximum of 12 skiers (three skiers of each gender for each alpine and Nordic) to Utah.
The Utes, who scored a 640-636 win against Colorado in the NCAA Western Regional last month in Colorado, hope to extend that success in their home state.
“There’s a small advantage being on our home hill,” Utah director of skiing Kevin Sweeney said. “That’s because pretty much every athlete has raced here. Soldier Hollow has hosted the U.S. National Championships the past two years and we’ve had numerous Utah Invitationals in Park City. But it is our home hill, and we probably have trained here slightly more than everyone else.”
Led by alpine skiers Kristiina Rove and Mark Engel, who both won their respective slalom races at the regional meet, the Utes will put up a strong fight this week.
“We just need to score solid in all eight actual events,” Sweeney said. “Our focus is to be scoring in the top-15 and top-12. That will certainly put us in the hunt for a title. You’ll see some ups and downs, but if we can be consistent across the board, I think we have a great shot.”
But Utah’s strong alpine team will be challenged by the Buffaloes’ outstanding cross-country contingent. Rune Oedegaard won both the men’s freestyle and classic races at the Western Regional to lead Colorado.
Out East, Vermont won the Eastern Regional for the fourth year in a row behind a podium sweep from its women’s giant slalom team. Kate Ryley paced the Catamounts and took the top podium spot, with Kristina Riis-Johannessen finishing second and Elise Tefre rounding out the sweep.
Bill Reichelt, director of skiing at Vermont, said that while the women’s alpine team is definitely strong, the rest of the Catamounts are going to be in the mix for podium finishes as well.
“We have a well-rounded team,” he said. “Eight of the 12 athletes are seniors. We have no glaring weaknesses and are pretty well balanced. Plus, we have all the senior experience and leadership.”
He and his team are looking forward to seeing how they stack up against the best of the West.
“They always have strong schools out West,” he said. “We can only control what we do, but if we ski well and have no misfortune, I think we can be in the mix for a title.”
Warm, spring-like temperatures have been creating problems on the slopes for the NCAA alpine skiers, however. Reichelt said practice time has been nonexistent since arriving in Park City on Saturday.
“Conditions are not ideal right now,” he said. “It’s very soft. We haven’t been able to train on the race hill yet, and we might not be able to train before the [GS] race on Wednesday.”
The race course might be moved to a different run if conditions don’t improve. But, Reichelt said, the Catamounts will train as if everything was normal.
“Our approach will be the same,” he said. “We’ll just have a little less time to prepare.”
Forecasts for the area call for temperatures in the low- to mid-40s, with possible precipitation on Thursday and Friday.