Whether training on area hills or competing in regional races, the ability-level skiers in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club rarely give thought to their peers in Europe.
But across the Atlantic Ocean is where a majority of the world's skiing talent resides, and to track progress and challenge its skiers, the SSWSC took several of its ability-level athletes -- the most accomplished in the club -- to Italy and France to race against an international field.
"There's a lot tougher competition over there for sure," said Tony Cesolini, 19. "There are a lot more racers. The hills can be harder, and the snow can be more difficult and icier."
But in the end, Cesolini and the other SSWSC and Colorado skiers who made the trip overseas learned they could compete with -- and beat -- top European talent.
Cesolini won a night slalom race Friday in Meribel, France. Teammate Drew Roberts placed fourth. Sean Dixon came in 47th and Marsh Gooding was disqualified for missing a gate in his second run after a strong first run. Evan Barrett of the Summit Ski Club was 22nd.
"My first run, I skied pretty well with just a couple mistakes, but they weren't too bad," Cesolini said. "In the second, I was skiing pretty well, and I came down and had a huge mistake and was on one ski and somehow I pulled it off and stayed on course."
The skiers next competed in a day slalom Saturday in Meribel. Roberts came in first, followed by Edward Dreake from Great Britain and Julien Groulet of France. The other Colorado skiers weren't successful on their second runs.
"In the first run, I was beat by (Dreake) and then the second run was more fit for me," Roberts, 18, said. "It was a steep hill and rounder, so I got to ski more aggressively, and I won by 1.5 seconds and that gave me the overall (title)."
Meribel, 40 minutes from Albertville, France, is where the women's Alpine events were staged during the 1992 Winter Olympics, Roberts said.
"The ability to win (International Ski Federation) races in North America is one thing, and the boys all have that ability," said Sue Schwartz, head ability coach with the SSWSC. "But to win in Europe is truly a step toward showing that these guys can ski above and beyond their competitors."
Ability coach Mike Wommack accompanied Cesolini, Dixon, Gooding, Roberts and Barrett on the trip abroad, which began in Italy with sight-seeing trips in Milan and Florence.
The boys competed on the slopes in Abetone and Folgaria, Italy, where Italian skiers dominated the top spots all three days of racing.
Roberts finished 32nd in a Jan. 16 giant slalom.
More than 140 racers started a giant slalom Jan. 20 in Folgaria with only 107 finishing. Cesolini was the top Colorado skier in 53rd. Gooding was 56th.
On Jan. 21, Roberts finished 18th and Gooding was 20th in the slalom, as the American skiers started to grow accustomed to the slopes and crazed atmosphere.
"It takes a while to warm up to it," Roberts said of adapting to European skiing conditions. "I don't even know if I'm close to getting used to it even yet."
While the SSWSC men were busy turning heads and winning races, Emily Colin, one of the top ability-level skiers in the women's program, was leaving her own impression on European skiers.
Colin traveled with Krissie Poehling and Katie Beardsley of the Vail Ski Club and its coach Dusty Grabowski.
Colin went specifically to race in the Innerkrems Downhill, which included seven members of the U.S. Ski Team. Colin finished 56th on the first day and 68th on the second.
Schwartz said Colin gave her a call and mentioned the windy conditions on the Austrian slopes.
But the trip to Italy proved more successful for the young Steamboat skier. Colin placed fourth in the Jan. 21 super-G in Bardonecchia. Poehling was second and Beardsley was sixth.
Colin finished first in the Jan. 22 super-G and the Friday giant slalom in Bardonecchia. Beardsley joined Colin on the podium Jan. 22 and Poehling joined Colin on the podium Friday, as the young Americans fared well against top international skiers.
The ability-level skiers from the SSWSC who traveled to Europe are back in the United States and competing in the Rocky Mountain Trophy Series super-G and downhill races at Beaver Creek.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail email@example.com