Steamboat Springs Skiing as a team can be a tricky task.
"It's a definitely a different concept," Colorado Mountain College Alpine Ski Team member Blake Barnes said of the balance between individual and group goals. "As an individual, you want to ski your hardest, but if you go all out, you might not finish or ski out. : You have to throttle it back to complete control, but still ski fast enough."
Barnes successfully walked that line at the U.S. Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Association Western Regional Championships, Thursday to Saturday at Brundage Mountain Resort in McCall, Idaho. The CMC freshman from Eden Prairie, Minn., led the Steamboat Springs-based men's team in both the giant slalom and slalom events, helping the team qualify in second place for the USCSA National Championships, March 4 to 8 in Sunday River, Maine. The only other eligible team - of the five that qualified for nationals - to finish ahead of CMC was the reigning national champion men's team from Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont. The University of Colorado and Montana State University men's club teams finished ahead of CMC, but neither is eligible for USCSA nationals, because both schools have NCAA Alpine ski programs.
"I think, in terms of depth, this is the best team I've had in my seven years," CMC ski coach George Thomas said. "If one guy goes down, there are four others that can step up."
In Friday's giant slalom, Barnes took 18th overall, followed by scoring skiers Jaymes Elkins (26th) and Christian Herzog (27th), to put CMC in third of the 19 teams participating. Barnes improved to a sixth-place finish in Saturday's slalom, followed by Shoko Tanaka (12th) and Elkins (24th) to secure the team's fourth-place overall finish.
"They're really pulling together as a team, and it's encouraging how they're not competitive away from one another," Thomas said of the group, which finished the season second in the Rocky Mountain Conference standings. "There's no ego game, which is hard for a group of mostly freshmen coming out of club programs."
It was nearly impossible for CMC's two female skiers to qualify, lacking a third teammate to register a team score.
But Kara Norby improved on a 24th-place giant slalom time to finish 10th in the slalom. That result earned her the first alternate spot for the Western Region's one individual qualifier. Sara Yngve finished 33rd in the giant slalom and 26th in the slalom. Two Steamboat skiers on the CU club team posted impressive finishes: Robyn Dye and Lauren Letson took second in the giant slalom and 15th in the slalom, respectively.
As the men's team completes its final practices leading up to the nationals, Barnes is looking to pull out all the stops.
"Right now we're all looking to do as well as we can - there's no pressure because we're already there," Barnes said. "Now that we're there, we can go all out."