Steamboat Springs The steep hills and high altitude of the Eldora Nordic Center did little to slow Steam--boat Springs skier Kath--erine Ingalls as she cruised to victory in Saturday's Junior Olympic qualifying race.
"I thought the course for the skate race was pretty easy," Ingalls said.
"But a lot of the other racers said it was the hardest they've seen this season. Maybe it's just me, but I've always liked steep, short uphills."
The 5-kilometer course set near the base of Eldora Ski Area had plenty to offer skiers who enjoy climbing, and its steep terrain seemed a perfect fit for Ingalls and the other members of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's cross-country team.
The Steamboat racers posted some of the team's best results of the season at the venue, which is a 20-mile trip and 4,500-foot climb from Boulder.
But despite the thin air, Ing--alls managed an impressive performance that helped her place first in the very competitive J2 division of the skate race.
But it didn't come without hard work and a little pain.
"As I was coming up the last hill, one of my coaches told me I was five seconds behind," Ingalls said. "He was yelling to go a little faster."
It's not the phrase most cross-country skiers want to hear at the end of a hilly 5-kilometer course, but Ingalls had saved enough in her reserves to increase her pace and win the race.
"It was very painful," Ingalls said. "I had to work hard for those five seconds."
Her result was just one of many top finishes for the Win--ter Sports Club.
Mary Rose placed third in the same class, Melissa Krause was fourth, and Molly Newman was 12th. Lucy Newman placed first in the J4 division, teammate Michaela Frias was first in the J3 division, and teammate Olivia Rose, who has won every race she's entered this season, placed first in the J5 class.
The race was one of two jun--ior Olympic qualifying events for the Steamboat team and marked the halfway point of the season for the local skiers.
"This was a great race for our team," coach Brain Tate said. "The results were good, especially on this course."
Tate said the track at the Eldora Nordic Center was one of the highest altitude races of the season and was laid out in some very challenging terrain.
Steamboat opened with a strong showing in Friday's individual start race. Older junior Sarah MacCarthy and J5 skier Olivia Rose led the way by winning their classes. Mary Rose also turned in a gutsy performance in the J2 division, in which she finished third.
"The steep hills and lack of oxygen made these our hardest races of the year," Tate said.
But Ingalls credited her experience this summer on a mountain bike for her success in Eldora.
"I had a bike race there this summer, " Ingalls said. "It looks a little different in the winter, but the hills and climbs were the same."
Ingalls said it really doesn't matter whether you're on a bike or on skis; the key to winning the race comes down to pacing.
"You really have to pace yourself over the whole course," Ingalls said. "That way, you have a little left for when you need it."
The Winter Sports Club team will have a few days to recover this week and next before leaving for a super junior Olympic qualifier at the Soldier Hollow venue in Park City, Utah, on Jan. 27 and 28.
-- To reach John F. Russell, call 871-4209 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org