New Mexico’s Lobos thrilled to be ski racing after team was nearly dropped
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Thursday night under the lights on the slope of Howelsen Hill, the University of New Mexico ski team was just happy to be here, not in a “Caribbean downhill skier in the Olympics” kind of way or “who cares about the results” kind of way, but in a “seriously, we didn’t think we’d be here,” kind of way.
For one agonizing month last spring there was no University of New Mexico ski team. The 25 athletes that had been a part of it for the 2017 season were informed the program was being cut in a cost-saving measure in mid-April, just a few weeks after the NCAA Ski National Championships.
“It means more when your team gets cut and you work so hard to get it back,” said Nick Veth, one of three Steamboat Springs-trained athletes on the team. “It was terribly frustrating when it happened. It was right during finals and you don’t know if you’ll come back to the school.”
That decision was reversed, temporarily at least, in mid-May, and Thursday, the Lobos were on the snow in Steamboat in force, participating in the Murphy Roberts Holiday Classic slalom races at Howelsen Hill in downtown.
It’s not strictly a college race. There will be some in Steamboat this winter, including starting March 7 the NCAA Ski National Championships, back for the third time in four years. But, the Holiday Classic annually attracts many of the top college racers in the region and that was no different Thursday.
The Lobos were out in force.
Vegard Busengdal, a Norwegian skier competing for New Mexico, was second in the men’s race. Tyler Theis, another Steamboat-trained Lobo, was eighth, Veth 17th and Alex Barounos, the third Steamboater, 18th. Rebecca Fiegl was sixth on the women’s side for the Lobos.
“We fought pretty hard. We were able to rally all of New Mexico basically, and the ski community there saw a value in having a ski team and we were able to get our team back,” Theis said. “Now we’re trying to prove ourselves.
“I was fortunate enough to have people who live in New Mexico fight for me to be able to ski there, and I’m going to try my best to ski as hard as I can.”
U.S. Ski Team racer Nolan Kasper won the men’s race, piecing together the night’s best first-run time with a second run that was good enough, eighth, for a 0.17-second advantage of Busengdal.
Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club racer Tommy Anderson had a very strong showing, placing third, 3.42 seconds off Kasper. Jett Seymour, another Steamboat racer competing for the U.S. Ski Team and University of Denver, was fourth. Steamboat-trained DU racer Nick Santaniello also made the top 10, placing seventh.
Megan McJames, a two-time Olympian and the reigning giant slalom national champ, won the women’s race by a large margin. University of Colorado skier Nora Christensen was second, 2.84 seconds back, and DU’s Andrew Komsic third, 3.79 behind. Julia Ford, training with the Winter Sports Club, was fourth and Steamboat’s Kathryn Parker seventh.
The athletes will be back on the hill today for the final day of the Classic starting at 9 a.m. with the women’s first run. The men go off at 10:15 before the women are back for their final run at 12:15 p.m. and the men at 1:45.
Fully aware he was in the midst of the mountain bike race of his life, Aspen’s John Gaston said he “tried to not think too far ahead” to prevent the magnitude of the moment from getting to him. He eventually finished runner-up in the iconic race.
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