Surrounded by a blanket of thick fog and confronted by a steady stream of heavy snow from the sky, Utah's Scott Veenis had only one thing on his mind as he stepped into the starting gate at the top of Concentration ski run at the Steamboat Ski Area.
Making it to the bottom.
"Thank God I made it down. That was the goal for today," Veenis said. 'The visibility wasn't too hot, and the light was really flat."
But the Utah freshman survived the conditions en route to posting the fastest combined time of the day at 2 minutes, 12.19 seconds, to win his first NCAA National Skiing title. The race was one of two giant slalom races on the opening day of the NCAA National Championships, which are taking place this week in Steamboat Springs.
"I was fighting the whole way down to stay in the established line," Veenis said. "It happened, it was a good result, and I'm very happy."
University of Denver skier Francesco Ghedina pushed the Utah freshman from start to finish but came up just short, taking second with a time of 2:13.13.
Ghedina trailed Veenis by less than a second after the first run, but a small mistake near the top of the course may have cost him the national title.
"I went into the powder, and I just stopped," Ghedina said. "I tried to take him, but I made this mistake."
University of New Mexico skier Lars Loeseth laid down the fastest second run of the day to move into third place. Former Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club ski racer Gaspar Perricone, who is a junior at Utah, struggled with the conditions on his first run but rebounded with the second-fastest second-run time to finish in 11th with 2:15.69.
"It was difficult to deal with fog in the first run," Perricone said. "There is always adversity in ski racing, but you just kind of have to persevere. All you can really do is put yourself in a position to make a good move in the second run. ... These are the NCAA Championships, which are the pinnacle moment of our season, so you give it all you got every run and hope for the best."
University of New Hampshire skiers made the most of their opportunity on opening day by scoring 161 points to take the overall lead in the team standings. The University of Denver is in second with 159.5 points, the University of Utah is third with 148 points, and the University of Vermont is fourth with 130 points. The University of New Mexico is fifth with 126, and the host school, the University of Colorado, is tied with Middlebury for sixth.
The championships will continue at 9:30 a.m. today with the women's five-kilometer classic cross-country race at Howelsen Hill. The men's 10-kilometer race will follow at 11:30 a.m.