Steamboat skiers compete in first-ever women’s Nordic combined World Cup

Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today
From left, US Ski Team women's Nordic combined skiers Annika Malacinski, Tara Geraghty-Moats, Tess Arnone and Alexa Brabec participated in the first-ever women's Nordic combined World Cup event in Austria on Friday. Brabec, Malacinski and Arnone all hail from Steamboat Springs.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Annika Malacinski, Tess Arnone and Alexa Brabec make history everywhere they go. At least, everywhere they go on skis.

The Steamboat Springs natives and U.S. ski team members competed in the historic, first-ever International Ski Federation (FIS) women’s Nordic combined World Cup this week in Austria, with Vermont skier Tara Geraghty-Moats taking the win.

Malacinski finished 28th, while Brabec took 29th and Arnone was 30th.

“I was really surprised with the girls and how everyone really showed up really strong and confident,” Malacinski said. “Everyone was jumping so amazing. That was an eye-opener for me. These girls are really progressing. I tried not to get too bummed about my jump. I am competing against very strong women and I hope to be on the top one day.”

Brabec, 16, could tell the event was special when she walked into the venue.

“There was a lot more going on,” she said. “You could kind of feel that the level of competition and the stakes were higher.”

After the jumping portion of the event, the Steamboat girls were at the bottom of the pack, while Geraghty-Moats was in sixth.

From left, US Ski Team women's Nordic combined skiers Tara Geraghty-Moats, Alexa Brabec, Annika Malacinski and Tess Arnone participated in the first-ever women's Nordic combined World Cup event in Austria on Friday. Brabec, Malacinski and Arnone all hail from Steamboat Springs. (Courtesy/Annika Malacinski)

The cross-country course was tough, to say the least. The route was all hills, going uphill, then downhill with technical turns, then up once more.

In the race, the Vermonter closed the gap and skied across the finish line, making history as the first ever victor of a women’s Nordic combined World Cup. The victory is even more special, since the World Cup debut of the sport was postponed and for a while, looked like it might not happen until later in the season.

“They called Tara up onto the first-place (podium) and they played the national anthem,” Arnone said. “I don’t know if Tara was crying on the podium, but it almost looked like she was. It’s kind of hard to tell when you’re wearing a mask.”

A few hiccups

Malacinski, 19, almost didn’t get to the historic event.

Upon hearing the original event in Lillehammer was postponed, Malacinski flew home to Colorado. Two days later, she heard the postponed event would be held on Dec. 18 in Ramsau, Austria, rather than in January as many suspected.

She immediately drove to Park City to get a COVID test with 24-hour results, which she needed to fly into Europe, but wasn’t guaranteed in Steamboat.

“It was kind of a mess all around,” she said. “At one point (my coach) was like, ‘I don’t think you should come’ because it was super stressful for everyone trying to figure out how to get over there. But, I didn’t give up and told myself I’m not going to miss the first women’s World Cup.”

Once at the venue and on the course, each Steamboat skier saw a setback.

The three started together but a mishap on a hill resulted in a small crash involving two of the women. Both Brabec and Malacinski ended up on their backs and had to recover and regain momentum.

“I was kind of kicking myself because I practiced the corner over and over again,” Brabec said. “But at the same time, I know I can’t just stop so I’m trying to get back on my feet and rejoin the race as fast as possible.”

Arnone, 17, had a relatively clean day, although her jump wasn’t quite as good as she hoped. That being said, she was grateful to land it after her jump the previous day resulted in a small crash.

“It definitely wasn’t one of my best jumps, but I skied it out, unlike my (previous) jump,” Arnone said. “I did end up doing a little bit of a crash, which wasn’t too bad — I just skidded out. I’m happy I exited the jump on two feet. And there will be more jumps in the future.”

Rapid growth

Steamboat Springs has been at the forefront of the development of women’s Nordic combined. Howelsen Hill and Steamboat Springs were already well known for helping secure Olympic medals through Steamboat’s own Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Billy DeMong at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. Now, the program is working to churn out the first women Nordic combined Olympians.

Nordic combined is the only Olympic sport, summer or winter, that doesn’t have a women’s competition. In order to become an Olympic sport, it must show high-level competition around the world. This World Cup event is a massive step toward proving that exists.

The sport has made strides toward Olympic inclusion in the past few years. In December 2018, Howelsen Hill hosted the first women’s Continental Cup event, which Geraghty-Moats won.

Earlier this year, Arnone and Brabec competed in the Olympic debut of the sport, at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland, where they finished 14th and 15th, respectively.

The first women’s World Cup season was slated to have another event in Lillehammer, Norway, but that was canceled. The International Ski Federation is looking for a replacement date that will work with the existing Continental Cup events in January.

While their schedules aren’t set in stone, the Steamboat women are hoping to participate.

“I think this is a big step in women’s history and history all around,” Malacinski said. “I can’t wait to tell my story when I’m older and tell them that I was part of something really amazing.”