Utah’s Alpine team has to hike for critical team points at the NCAA Skiing Championships

Gustav Vøllo avoids any uphill trekking on his way to two silvers, but Utes aren’t clear of their competitors heading in to final Nordic races

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gustav Vøllo of the University of Utah competes in men’s slalom as he takes second place during the NCAA Skiing Championships held at Park City Mountain Resort on Friday, March 11, 2022, in Park City, Utah.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

Park City • There’s a reason they’re called downhill skiers. They strongly prefer to go down the mountain. But during the Alpine races at the NCAA Skiing Championships, team strategy often required competitors to go up.

Because each school can field only three skiers, and their points count toward the team score — with no throwaways — it is imperative each skier finishes with some time, even if it’s not a great one. So if they miss a gate, they have to hike back up to it.

“I hate hiking. That’s my least favorite type of skiing,” said University of Utah Alpine skier Gustav Vøllo. He added, “We want to finish a clean run and eliminate all the hiking.”

Vøllo accomplished that mission during both Friday’s slalom and Thursday’s giant slalom races at Park City Mountain Resort. He skied cleanly on his way to placing second in both events. Fellow Norwegian Joachim Lien also put down four clean runs to take eighth and sixth, respectively. Adding in the results of Wilhelm Normannseth (13th and 20th), the Utes men ran away with the Alpine title.

The Utes also won the overall Alpine title by a single point over Denver University, 256.5 to 255.5. And they really had to work for it.

Utah skier Katie Parker, fresh off competing for Australia in the Olympics, twice found herself hiking up the C.B.’s Run at Park City Mountain Resort during her second slalom run Friday. In almost any other competition, she would have skied out and taken the DNF. But not when her teammates were counting on her.

She finished 26th of 34 racers , but even that result was worth a critical five points. Plus, she radioed up to teammate Kaja Norbye to share her knowledge in what Utes Alpine coach JJ Johnson said was the best finish report he’s heard in his career.

“She was still cuing it up and she’s like, ‘I don’t even know what to say. I hiked twice!’” Johnson said. “And we’re like trying to hold the radio down so (Kaja) wouldn’t hear.”

Norbye said she didn’t want to hear any more, but she got the message. She picked her way cautiously through the top section then poured on the speed for a clean run that temporarily put her in the lead. She eventually landed in sixth.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Joachim Mjelde of Westminster College takes a tumble during his first run as he races in men’s slalom as part of the NCAA Skiing Championships on Friday, March 11, 2022, at Park City, Utah.

DU’s Katie Hensien had the top and third fastest times in her two runs to take the win, followed by Westminster College’s Evelina Fredericsson and Montana State’s Kristiane Bekkestad. Westminster’s Denise Dingsleder placed fifth and teammate Julia Toiviainen was 14th as the Griffins women won the day and placed second overall in Alpine to DU. Combined with the men, Westminster placed fourth overall in the Alpine disciplines.

“It’s just so fun to be a whole team and be able to compete with each other as a team, too,” Fredericsson said, “because we don’t really do it when you’re not in college.”

Skiers frequently expressed that they felt pressure and pride in representing their teams. For the Utes, it may be ratcheted up to another level. They are not only competing on their home courses, but they are also trying to defend their 2021 and 2019 titles (they were leading in 2020 when the races were called off because of COVID-19).

Entering the Friday, the midway point of the meet, Utah held a 24.5 lead over the University of Colorado. As the Utes (405 points) head into Saturday’s Nordic races, the last on the schedule, they lead Vermont (377.5) by 27.5 points. DU (372.5) and Colorado (368) also remain within striking distance.

If all the Utes’ skiers thrive on the pressure like Vøllo, they’ll be in good shape — and not the kind of shape they get from having to do a lot of hiking.

“We come in here as favorites, we’re reigning NCAA champions. So we definitely feel the extra pressure about being there. And also having such depth in every single part of the team, we all want to do well,” he said. “And yeah, that’s something I feel like I brought to my advantage, just to have that little extra attention and that little extra excitement to ski for.”

Saturday’s Nordic races begin with the men’s 20-kilometer freestyle at 9: 30 a.m. and the women’s 15k freestyle at 11:30 a.m. Both races will be held at Soldier Hollow and are free to the public.