Steamboat skiers gain experience at Utah event

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— A lack of snow in Europe brought a talent-packed field of cross-country skiers to last weekend's SuperTour event at the Olympic venue near Heber City, Utah.

The field included several members of the U.S. Ski Team, several national level skiers from Canada and a small group of promising athletes from the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

"It was a little intimidating," Steamboat Springs skier Melissa Krause said. "It was good to race with those skiers because we had a chance to see what it takes to be competitive at that level."

Because the SuperTour offers prize money to the top finishers, the races already have a reputation for drawing strong fields. But the poor snow conditions in Europe this winter upped the ante for Saturday's freestyle skate race and Sunday's classic sprint.

"Since there is no snow in Europe right now, most of the U.S. Ski Team came home for these events," Steamboat coach Brian Tate said. "It was a great racing opportunity for our skiers."

Sixteen-year-old Krause highlighted the Steamboat results by posting a time of 32 minutes, 16 seconds in Saturday's 10-kilometer freestyle event at Soldier Hollow. The event, which was held on the same venue as the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, was won by Minnesota skier Caitlin Compton who is leading the overall and distance divisions in the SuperTour. Compton is second in the sprint standings.

Krause finished 38th overall and 12th in the junior field. Teammate Mary Rose was 40th overall and 14th among juniors. Compton, a top young skier from the Central Cross Country team in Minnesota, won the event in 26:36.

"I was very happy. This was the first 10K that I've raced," Krause said. "It was challenging because it was actually a 2-kilometer loop that we raced around five times."

She said it was challenging because she was mixed with racers who were all at different points of the race.

"The racer next to you might have been on her first lap," Krause said. "It was really hard to figure out how hard to go."

On the men's side, U.S. Ski Team member Kris Freeman stole the show in the 15-kilometer race. The top American skier finished the race in 36:04.

Steamboat Springs' Marty Smith, who returned to the club after graduating from Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, was the top Winter Sports Club finisher in 39th. He was fifth in the junior class with a time of 41:21. Teammate Paul Rose was 54th overall and 12th in the junior class.

On Sunday, the racers move to the shorter course for the classic sprint race. Athletes are seeded into groups of four racers who race along a 1.25-kilometer track.

Steamboat's Molly Newman and Krause did very well in the women's junior divisions. Both racers won their semifinal heats, and in the finals, Newman raced to first, and Krause finished fourth. Mary Rose also advanced to the semifinals, where she finished third. She then shifted to a consolation bracket where she placed second.

Steamboat also fared well on the junior men's side.

Smith was second in his semifinal and then raced to third in the finals. Paul Rose won his semifinal and then placed fourth in the finals. Collin Struthers, of Sun Valley, won the junior class.

Tate said the races were a great warm-up for the junior nationals, which will be held in Houghten, Mich., the first week of January.

"These races were really a chance to get ready for those events," Krause said. "That's what we've been working for."

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