Steamboat Springs Perched above the Howelsen Hill face, Karl Johnson looked out and saw home.
"I just love the feel of this place," he said. "It reminds me a lot of Cochran's (Ski Area) where I grew up. It's a small hill. A lot of kids running everywhere. It brings you back to when you were a little kid, bumming around having a good time."
No longer a child, the Dart--mouth senior won Friday night's men's slalom race, giving the Big Green its fifth NCAA slalom title in as many years.
Johnson's time of 1 minute, 13.85 seconds was well ahead of runner-up Timothee Theaux of the University of Alaska-Anchorage, whose combined time was 1:14.37. University of New Mexico's Tor Henning Fodnesbergene was third in 1:14.49.
"Once you have the right mentality in place, it's easy to do well," Johnson said. "I had a rough day training (Thursday), but I got that out of the head. Right before my second run, the guy behind me was like, 'This is fun.'" I just looked out and was like, 'This is fun.'"
Wearing bib No. 10, Johnson laid down a great first run, distancing himself from the field by nearly a second. The advantage held up in the second run under the lights.
More than a foot of snow blanketed Howelsen Hill overnight and through Friday. Johnson had no complaints about the race conditions, but several racers had difficulty navigating the gates on Howelsen's steep face during the first run.
"Our plan the last couple of days during training was to go full speed, and in the race if you need to knock it back a notch to finish the race, do that," Johnson said. "In the first run, I just had a nice clear head, and my goal was to be precise, which is unusual for me. It worked out. I was pretty clean all the way down."
The second run was set more toward the ski jumps, which was a faster course for almost everyone in the field.
When Johnson got to the bottom, there was a brief pause -- no more than a couple of seconds -- before the announcer shouted that Johnson was the 2006 NCAA men's slalom champion. Johnson threw his arms in the air and celebrated with his teammates.
It had been a rough year for the men's team, Johnson said. The slalom racers had struggled, failing to finish races and getting disqualified.
"We all knew it was there," Johnson said. "We just had to put it together."
Johnson planned to celebrate the win Friday night, but today it was back to reality.
"I have two exams to take today, so that will get in the way a little bit," Johnson said.
The 2006 NCAA Men's and Women's Skiing Championships wrap up today with the freestyle cross-country races, which begin at 10 a.m. at Howelsen Hill.