MINTURN, Colo. - Aspen High's boys and girls ski teams have state titles in their sights.
By virtue a string of impressive performances at Beaver Creek and at Maloit Park in Minturn on Friday, the first day of the Colorado State High School Ski Championships, the two squads find themselves with 11-point leads over the competition.
The championships conclude Friday with a 5-kilometer classic and slalom.
Keegan Swirbul paced the Aspen boys nordic team with a dominant effort in the 5-kilometer skate, powering to the finish line in 12 minutes, 48.8 seconds - good for a nearly 20 seconds victory over Summit High's Jackson Hill. Fritz Carpenter (13:29.1) and Brett Gordon (13:56.7) wound up third and fifth for the Skiers, who finished first with 174 points.
"I raced against (Swirbul) last year. He's a really good athlete; he's quick - great competition," Hill told The Summit Daily News. "Between the two of us, we stayed right where we were from the start. He started first; I started second, and it stayed like that for the majority of the race."
Joel Sawyer (13:33.7) and Henry Trowbridge (13:57) wound up fourth and sixth for the Tigers, who scored 171.
On the alpine side, Benjamin Throm (1:57.93), Zach Kendrick (2:04.97) and Scott Houtsma (2:07.86) finished third, 10th and 15th for Aspen, which finished third with 156 points. Steamboat Springs (164) and Evergreen, buoyed by Jake Bender's (1:55.19) victory, wound up first and second.
"It was a little stressful at times, but overall it went well," Skiers alpine coach Craig Carlson said. "It was a little bit of a struggle - this is a really flat GS hill. Because we train (at Aspen Highlands), we're not used to flat terrain. Some of our kids had a hard time keeping pace."
The Skiers' lead could have been more substantial had it not been for some bad luck; fifth after the first run, Andrew Hancock made a small mistake during his second attempt, missed a gate and had to hike to get back on course. He wound up 28th in 2:12.95.
No matter. All told, the Aspen boys sit in first place with 330 points. Summit (319) and Steamboat (311) are within striking distance.
The reigning state champion Skiers girls (318), meanwhile, lead challengers Steamboat (307) and Summit (272).
Hannah Dodge (16:29.4), Ellie Parker (16:42.8) and Sophie Stuber (16:55.6) logged eighth-, 11th- and 13th-place finishes in the skate for Aspen (157), which wound up a distant second to Vail Mountain School (174).
Colorado Rocky Mountain School freshman Evelina Sutro picked up the win with a time of 15:11.8. The Gore Rangers had five competitors finish in the top six.
The Steamboat girls led the way during the morning GS, tallying 167 points. Lilly McSwain (2:01.51), Ilona Schwarz (2:02) and Sonja Gagen finished fourth, fifth and 14th for the Skiers (161), who wound up two points behind Evergreen in third.
Kendall VanHee picked up the win with a combined time of 2:00.67, helping host Battle Mountain (155) take fourth.
"Things went well for us," nordic coach Travis Moore said. "As usual, it's going to be a close race for sure. We're just trying to keep it light, keep the kids psyched and hope we ski fast tomorrow. If they do what they're capable of, we'll have another good day."