Steamboat Springs A youth movement has forced Nordic ski coach Barry Smith to change the way his team is approaching the high school ski season.
"We are very young this year," Smith said. "I've had to take a little different approach starting out."
Veteran skiers, including state champions Marty Smith and Mike Gleason, have moved away.
Smith is attending the Stratton Mountain School in Vermont this winter, and Glea--son graduated and is skiing at Montana State University.
But coach Smith is excited about the group of young skiers that will form this year's team, and he says there are still plenty of talented skiers on the team. But with a mix of newcomers and members of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's program, the coach has been forced to take a step back to find some common ground headed into the season. This year began with more work on technique and balance.
"To tell the truth, I'm not really sure what to expect until after this weekend," Smith said. "But I'm confident that we will be able to pull it together through the course of the season."
Smith was happy to learn that Sarah MacCarthy, Leigh Ann Smith and Melissa Krause will return to the Sailors this season. Other promising skiers include Cameron Osteen, Michelle Lichtenfels, Cierra Lorenz and Heidi Wernig. Steamboat's Anna Anderson, who competes in Nordic and Alpine events, also is expected to contend for the Skimeister award.
Smith expects Bryce Gordon, who trained with the team as an eighth-grader last season, to step into a leadership role.
Gordon, a top mountain bike racer in the summer, has looked strong in training and displays a natural ability for racing on snow.
He will be joined by a group of inexperienced but eager skiers that includes Peter Daley, Sean Hill and Jack Serhant.
Smith understands that the key to the Sailors' success this season will be the balance between the Alpine and Nordic teams. This year's Alpine roster looks solid, and Smith understands that the Nordic skiers will need to improve if the team wants to keep pace with programs in Aspen and Summit County.
Smith is sure this group can grow and that Steamboat will contend for a state title in Winter Park this February.
"The past couple of years, we've had a really strong Nordic program, and we couldn't get it done on the Alpine side," Smith said.
"This year, it looks like things have swapped. But I think this group can progress this season, and I wouldn't be surprised if we are in the running for a title by the end of the year. But the most important thing is that our skiers are having a good time and having fun."
The team will open the season this Saturday in Summit County with a classic race. The team will host its only race of the season Jan. 6 at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center.
-- To reach John F. Russell, call 871-4209 or e-mail jrussell@steamboat pilot.com