Utes strong in NCAA alpine opener | ParkRecord.com

Utes strong in NCAA alpine opener

Utah s Mark Engel gets low as he rounds a gate during the men s giant slalom race at the NCAA Skiing Championships at Park City Mountain Resort on Wednesday afternoon. Christopher Reeves/The Park Record
(Photo by: Christopher Reeves/The Park Record)

The sunny skies and spring-like temperatures made for a beautiful day for fans watching the NCAA Skiing Championships on Wednesday morning at Park City Mountain Resort.

Watching the top collegiate athletes navigate their way down a challenging giant slalom course was a pleasant experience on the great day.

But, for the athletes, the warm weather made for tough skiing conditions.

As the course began to turn to slush under the blazing sun, simply finishing the race without crashing became a challenge for men and women alike.

However, for members of the University of Utah ski team, who are serving as hosts for this week’s championships, the conditions were nothing out of the ordinary.

Three Utes earned spots on the podium on Wednesday – Kristiina Rove (second) and Chloe Fausa (third) in the women’s race and Mark Engel (first) on the men’s side.

Engel, a 22-year-old freshman who spent two years as a member of the U.S. Ski Team, said skiing on his home hill was crucial to his success.

"It’s a pretty good advantage," he said. "It helps a lot. This hill always skis tactically the same way – you have to hold back in a spot and go for it in a different spot. If you ski the hill [a lot], it definitely helps."

Still, even with a ton of experience skiing PCMR, Engel nearly crashed midway through his second run. But, he said, that turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

"I slowed down a bit right there, but it was really turny afterwards, so it wasn’t the worst move," he said. "I had a mistake, had to slow down, but it set me up nicely for the next section. I got kind of lucky."

Rove said she tried to keep her aggressive mentality despite seeing several competitors crash ahead of her.

"I just went for it as fast as I could," she said. "I had some really tough parts there where I almost crashed. Then I just fought through it and it worked out."

Though the course proved problematic for a number of East Coast skiers, Rove said the conditions were nothing she couldn’t handle.

"It’s pretty tough, but it was definitely better than I expected," she said. "The past few days when we’ve been training here, it’s been really hard. The course crew did an amazing job and I have to thank them for that."

Kristine Haugen of Denver won the women’s race, the second-straight year she’s taken the top spot. After battling her way back from injuries during the offseason, she said this victory was extra sweet.

"I’m so happy," she said. "I told everyone, ‘I don’t believe it.’ I just didn’t really have that feeling that I was going to get to do this again this year. To have that feeling [of winning] again is just amazing."

On the men’s side, Armin Triendl of New Mexico took second place and Niko Harmanen of Alaska Anchorage finished third to round out the podium.

Utah held a 165-130 lead over both New Mexico and Denver after day one of the championships. However, the Utes would drop to second place after Thursday’s classical Nordic races (see page B-2 for details).

Check out Wednesday’s edition of The Park Record for results from the men’s and women’s slalom races.