Holiday Classic under the lights crowns winners, creates camaraderie | SteamboatToday.com

Holiday Classic under the lights crowns winners, creates camaraderie

Ben Ingersoll

Former Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athlete and current Colorado Buffalo Shane McLean took fifth in Sunday's Holiday Classic race. It's probably her last competitive race at Howelsen, she said, and she made the most of the experience.

— The annual Holiday Classic Alpine ski race under the Howelsen Hill lights is as much of a homecoming as it is a competitive environment.

The men’s and ladies’ start lists are chock full of skiers from America’s top collegiate ski programs, like the University of New Mexico and the University of Colorado. On those collegiate rosters are many racers who are seasonal regulars on Steamboat Springs’ famed ski hill. A large contingent even spent their teenage years training here with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

CU Buffaloes senior Alpiner Shane McLean is all of the above.

McLean graduated from The Lowell Whiteman School — and the Winter Sports Club in a way — in 2010 after moving to Steamboat four years earlier. The past four seasons, she has been a Buffalo, and the past two winters, she has been a first-team All-Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association performer.

McLean has competed on many stages from coast to coast, but there’s something about the Holiday Classic at Howelsen that takes the cake. She isn’t alone in this line of thinking, either.

"It’s awesome," McLean said. "This is my all-time favorite race. I always look forward to it. I didn’t get to race it last year, and this is probably my late year at it. It’s so much fun."

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All weekend, the Olympian Hall rooms at Howelsen’s base have been cramped with everything from ski gear to empty water bottles and soggy clothes — especially Sunday during a driving sleet storm all day.

In the rooms, there is a sense of camaraderie, where a Buffalo can bond in the same circles as a New Mexico Lobo, where an up-and-coming junior can compete against and alongside accomplished collegians.

McLean argues that it’s a result of some Steamboat charm, where even a competitive environment in town can be spun off as an everyone-is-one feeling.

"It’s the whole holiday experience, and it’s always a really good race," McLean said. "People always have a lot of fun at the night slalom. The community of Steamboat is just so strong."

But of course, there still is a men’s and ladies’ slalom to be raced and, even for the collegiate skiers, a $1,000 cash prize to be split between the day’s pair of winners.

On the women’s side, McLean shaved a full three seconds off her first-run time (44:05) to take fifth overall. She finished behind CU teammate Thea Grosvold, who won the day and the $500 check with a combined time of 1:23.35. New Mexico’s Karoline Soevik Myklebust was second in 1:23.42, Argentina’s Macarena Simari Birkner took third in 1:23.44 and CU’s Jessica Honkonen was fourth in 1:24.46.

Ellese Lupori and Serina Kidd were the top-finishing Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athletes, taking 14th and 15th, respectively.

The men’s side was won by a familiar face in Hig Roberts, a former Winter Sports Club athlete turned Middlebury College skier who now represents Ski Club Vail. Roberts stormed back from fourth place after his first run to win with a two-run time of 1:19.16. Roberts edged out Ski Club Vail teammate Seppi Stiegler (1:19.38) and New Mexico’s Juho-Pekka Penttinen (1:20.41). Denver University Pioneer Taylor Shiffrin was fourth in 1:20.56, and New Mexico’s Mark Miller stumbled from his top first-run time to finish fifth in 1:20.74.

McLean tried to put the final results in perspective. Sure, there was a race to be won and a cash prize to be collected, but the family atmosphere just a few days away from Christmas was the best trophy, in her eyes.

"Howelsen is just a classic place," she said. "I love coming back to this community because I see all the people that I’ve been racing with, and this is kind of the only time I get to see them. Even if you don’t ski well, it’s a really fun race."

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll