Steamboat Springs When the top nordic combined skiers in the world take to the jumps at Howelsen Hill Thursday, one name will be noticeably absent.
In the past six years, Norwegian Bjarte Engen Vik has grown into a local favorite, posting more second-place finishes than any other skier in the history of the event.
But apparently a bad run in Park City and problems adjusting to the altitude of the Rocky Mountains were just too much for Vik. He headed home after the final event in Park City and will not compete in his seventh Ski Town USA Classic this week in Steamboat.
Also a scratch will be the entire team from Finland a team that opted to head home to begin training for the World Championships, which will take place Feb. 16 in Lahti, Finland. That means Samppa Lajunen, who won the sprint here last year, and Hannu Manninen will also miss this week's events in Steamboat.
"It doesn't matter that much," American coach Tom Steitz said of the missing teams. "It's not the norm for all the teams to show up to every World Cup. Most teams will skip an event here and there during the course of the season.
Steitz said Steamboat has been spoiled in the past by great early season placement on the schedule. This year, however, the Steamboat event is much later and unfortunately viewed, at least by one nation, as one that can be skipped.
"It's great," Todd Lodwick said during jump training. "That's three skiers in the top-10 that are not going to be here. It will be a good chance for our skiers to move up."
Steitz said it's not that uncommon for entire teams to skip competitions, and many times the Americans take strategic breaks for training or just to recover.
Still, the U.S. nordic team's jumping coach Jan Erik Aalbu said it is rare for Vik to skip a meet at this point of the season.
"He doesn't miss many competitions," Aalbu said. "He wants to win everything. To win the World Cup overall now (after missing two World Cup starts) will be really, really hard for him."
Aalbu said Vik appeared to be struggling in Park City and thinks he headed home to figure out what was going on before the World Championships. Those championships could be his last, as the top Norwegian has already hinted this will be his last season.
Vik led the jumping in the Park City last week with an effort of 125-meters in the Sprint event but then slipped to 19th after the cross-country. The American coach said that is a sign the Norwegian skier was having problems adjusting to the altitude.