Rob Zehner cuts around a gate Sunday at Steamboat Ski Area during a Town Challenge giant slalom race. Zehner, twice a NASTAR overall national champion, won the race.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Rob Zehner cuts around a gate Sunday at Steamboat Ski Area during a Town Challenge giant slalom race. Zehner, twice a NASTAR overall national champion, won the race.

Experience pays at Steamboat's Town Challenge races

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Mike Antonishen flies down the course Sunday during his first Town Challenge race at Steamboat Ski Area.

Results

Men

  1. Rob Zehner, 49.45
  2. Kevin Hendrickson, 50.02
  3. Trevyn Newpher, 50.28

Women

  1. Ali Pougiales, 52.58
  2. Natalie Pearl, 53.19
  3. Elyse Tanner, 57.85

— At first glance it might not have seemed fair.

Rob Zehner recorded the two fastest times in this winter’s first Town Challenge ski race on Sunday, blowing down the Bashor giant slalom course at Steamboat Ski Area twice for a combined time of 49.45 seconds.

Zehner had an edge, though. He’s the two-time reigning NASTAR national champion. He was awarded a trip to Chile to train with the U.S. Ski Team after claiming his last NASTAR title. So, early this fall, he packed his bags and spent a week soaking up the minutia of his favorite sport from the country’s best talent.

“When I was there I was skiing a GS course with Ted Ligety,” Zehner said. “I was with some of the best GS skiers in the world. Just following their lines, that really helped me. It made me be more aggressive on my lines.”

Although Zehner has bigger fish to fry — he’s a regular on the state’s Masters ski racing circuit and hopes to make it a three-peat at the NASTAR national championships this winter in Winter Park — he used the skills he already had and those he acquired earlier this season to win Sunday’s event.

He finished ahead of Kevin Hendrickson, who was second with a combined time of 50.02. Trevyn Newpher was third at 50.28.

But did his U.S. Ski Team dalliances give him an unfair advantage? Not likely. Racers in Sunday’s event came with all the gear you’d expect to see at any high-level ski race. Lycra race suits were the clothing of choice and GS skis the main method of transportation.

All the top finishers had earlier lives as racers, and the sixth-place men’s skier, Stein Halsnes, certainly picked up some specialized training of his own as he and his Norwegian brothers raced professionally in the 1970s and ’80s.

And they were all competitive. Still, all were quick to acknowledge the difference between a Sunday racing against Steamboat locals and the higher stakes all had or still ski for.

“This was just fun. You don’t have to worry about how you do and you can be relaxed,” 16-year-old Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club racer Natalie Pearl said. “I did have fun.”

Pearl came up just short. Ali Pougiales won the women’s division with a combined time of 52.58 seconds. Pearl was second in 53.19, and Elyse Tanner was third in 57.85.

“The course today I usually train slalom on, so it was a little different skiing GS on it. I’ve skied that run a ton of times,” said Pougiales, 15 and active in the Winter Sports Club. “It was nice to win. I tried really hard and wanted to do well.”

It wasn’t all about the super experienced and the super fast, though. Patti Zehner helped organize the event and said the annual Town Challenge series appeals to a wide variety of racers.

“Everyone loves these, especially the people that grew up as racers. Everyone looks forward to this,” she said, pausing while cleaning up the course after the action had ended. “The oldest person was over 70. I’m the oldest woman, and I’m over 60. Then the youngest was 15. We also have a wide range in ability. We have people that are very early racers and some that have raced for a long, long time.

“They all just love getting out here.”

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