Steamboat Springs The competition was far from fierce at the opening Nordic Challenge race Wednesday night at the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena at Howelsen Hill.
Many racers weren't even sure how many laps they needed to complete after the criterium format race. Rather, it was fun that was the focus of the snowy, opening race of the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council's six-event series.
"This is the only criterium we do for the whole series," race director Jimmy Capra said. "We're looking to do something different and fun for a starting race to get people out and to have a good time."
Along these lines, the race also was the only Nordic Challenge event without prizes or cumulative points awarded to participants.
Organizers originally scheduled three divisions, but a lack of youth and recreational-division entrants forced them to instead group the 32 competitors into a single division.
Under the lights of the rodeo arena, the group began 1.7-kilometer laps out to Vanatta Field, up the hill behind the south bleachers and back into the arena.
Mark Iverson led the group with five-minute lap times. He completed his fourth lap seconds after the 20-minute bell signaled the racers to complete a final lap.
Iverson went on to finish the race in the top spot, passing other competitors who had the good fortune of finishing their final lap right behind him.
Korie Steitz was second to Iverson in the criterium finish, followed closely by Mike Jarrett and Deb Rose in third and fourth, respectively.
In actual finish times based on laps completed, Iverson won, Austin Ross took second, and Robert Gardner took third. On the women's side, Steitz won, followed by Rose and Mariane Osteen.
Iverson was returning to his home hill for the first time since competing at the NCAA Skiing Championships in March for Montana State University. He compared the soft, new snow to "running in sand" and noted the difficulty of lapping the course.
"There's no place to really chill, recover and get you breath with the one hill," said Iverson, who now races on the USSA SuperTour for Rossignol Elite. He said he gauged his lead by checking his distance from Ross, another Steamboat native back for the holidays. Ross races for Colby College in Maine.
Steitz, a sophomore at Montana State, also said she was excited to return home for her winter break and utilize a training opportunity before the college Nordic circuit begins in January.
"I'm trying to jump in as many races as possible," Steitz said, looking up at arena lights illuminating the steady downfall. "This is awesome - this is all we want for Christmas."
The next Nordic Challenge race is Jan. 14 at Vista Verde Ranch.
For full results and Nordic Challenge details, visit www.steamboatxcski.org.