Skiers, riders give thumbs up to cross course at Steamboat Ski Area |

Skiers, riders give thumbs up to cross course at Steamboat Ski Area

Luke Graham

Steamboat Springs skiers Maggie McElhiney, right, Jaelin Kauf, middle top, and Lesley Wilson, left, compete with Crested Butte skier Josie Byron during Saturday's ski cross event at Steamboat Ski Area.
Matt Stensland

— Veteran snowboard cross rider Autumn Lachendro didn't find the new ski and snowboard cross course at Steamboat Ski Area very challenging.

But it wasn't for reasons you'd think.

Lachendro, who does the USASA Rocky Mountain Series and chases cash purses across the state, was taken aback with the fluidity of the course.

"It's not as challenging because everything is set up so well," Lachendro said. "They must have great designers. The fluidity of everything. They give you time to land. They give you time to set up for the table top, the step up, the double step up. As opposed to right-left and jumping into a berm right away."

Somewhere, Steamboat Terrain Park Manager Nick Roma is smiling. The building of the course started in fall and culminated with its first actual competition Saturday, a USASA Rocky Mountain Series event that brought 91 riders and skiers to Steamboat. For Roma, who was the only American builder on the 2010 Winter Olympics course, it also proved validation for his crew, which spent two weeks building the course this month.

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"I like the fact that it has some length to it," rider Billy Petten­­gill said. "I race in Maine, so I'm traveling. Most are 40 to 45 seconds. This is 70 or 75 seconds. It gets riders used to a longer course. It's pretty technical. What you see at the USASAs varies, but this is on the higher end."

Months in the making

Roma and his team started designing the course in fall. After using a GPS to outline the course, Roma determined where the turns would be.

"I looked at the lay of the land and figured out where I could put turns on snow," Roma said. "Once you get the turns in place, you figure out in between."

The course starts from the flats above Bashor Bowl, weaves through Mavericks Terrain Park, crosses the Beeline run and finishes at the bottom of Giggle Gulch, up against Right-O-Way.

Roma said the most difficult part was making the berm turns with a snowcat. But outside of that, there wasn't much to it, he said.

The course was longer than most and toned down for Saturday and today's USASA races, but it received a big approval from most riders.

"Whoever designed this course definitely took into consideration the rider," Lachendro said. "It wasn't, 'Let's make as much carnage as we can.'"

Strengthening programs

Although the course hosted its first competition Saturday and will host the NorAm Hole Shot Cross tour Wednesday and Thursday, where Roma said they will "spruce it up and make it pretty gnarly," it also will serve as a huge tool for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club ski and snowboard cross teams.

There are few courses in the state like this one, and with the budding programs at the Winter Sports Club, Steamboat again appears to be ahead of the curve with ski and snowboard cross.

"This is really the first time we've had a full-length, official course," said Rick DeVos, Winter Sports Club's executive director. "We have programming with the Winter Sports Club with (coaches) Jon Casson and Brett Buckles. This is a big-boy course. We have a head start at this, and we have some athletes doing really well."

Saturday was evidence of that.

Steamboat riders and skiers picked up eight first-place finishes and 12 other podium slots.

But it was no time for rest.

Another USASA event begins at 10 a.m. today, and the Hole Shot Tour is scheduled for training Tuesday.

For Roma, though, Saturday confirmed that his course wasn't just viable, but profoundly effective.

The process starts over again, however.

Roma and his team will be back at it after today's event, readying it for more experienced riders.

"Sunday and Monday," he said, "will be long nights."

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