Steamboat Springs The girls on the elite end of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's cross-country junior ability team can already hear the Megadeth chords ringing in their ears.
Coach Travis Jones has put the carrot out in front of them - finish among the top six J1 athletes at the 2008 U.S. Cross Country Championships, Tuesday through Sunday in Houghton, Mich., and earn a start at the J1 Scandinavian Cup Championships in Otepaa, Estonia. Which, of course, includes an obligatory stop at a Megadeth concert beforehand in Helsinki, Finland.
But before Mary Rose, Molly Newman and Melissa Krause can think about U.S. Ski Team-funded trips and metal concerts, these 16- and 17-year-old J1 athletes have to worry about performing on the big stage in Houghton that kicks off the new year.
"I have no expectations, but it would be nice to pre-qualify for junior nationals," Rose said, looking ahead to the championships that will bring together 450 of the nation's top club and collegiate skiers for four days of race events.
With all three girls wearing their Rocky Mountain Nordic national team jackets from last year's junior nationals at a chilly workout Wednesday morning at Howelsen Hill, the girls' desire to have a strong showing and return to junior nationals is apparent.
Fortunately, they can benefit from a veteran training partner in Mark Iverson.
The 25-year-old has been to all but two national championships since 1999.
Iverson's aim, skiing amid deep talent as a member of the Rossignol Elite factory team, is for one of five U.S. starting spots that will be up for grabs at the Viessmann FIS Cross Country World Cup, Jan. 22 to 26 in Canmore, Alberta.
"My main focus is (Tuesday's) 10K skate and (Saturday's) skate sprint," Iverson said. "There's no worlds or Olympics this year, so everyone's going to be skiing for that (Canadian) World Cup."
Iverson can also offer the younger Winter Sports Club skiers some sage advice on handling pressure.
"You've just got to treat it like a Colorado race," Iverson told Rose, Newman and Krause. "All the colleges, clubs, the factory teams, it gets crazy, so you have to focus like it's a local race - stay calm and relaxed."
Speaking of college teams, Steamboat skiers Austin Ross, skiing for Colby College in Maine and Sarah MacCarthy, skiing for the University of Utah, will also be thrown into the mix of the country's best at the Houghton event this week.
Add SSWSC skier Ian Mallems' hope to qualify for the Junior World Championships, to be held this season in Poland, and you've got a high-pressure race with a lot at stake, coming at an odd time of the ski season.
But for skiers like Iverson, all the summer mountain bike and running races have been part of a training plan geared for this week's races.
"We still have two months of racing left, but (nationals) is really the culmination of a lot of training," Iverson said.