Racers test their legs in Nordic combined season’s 1st competition at Howelsen | SteamboatToday.com

Racers test their legs in Nordic combined season’s 1st competition at Howelsen

Ben Ingersoll

U.S. Ski Team's Jasper Good finished third in the HS-100 Nordic combined senior class jumping portion and skied his way to a second-place finish overall in Saturday's Rocky Mountain Division Winter Start at Howelsen Hill.

— The Nordic combined season is young — very young — and spectators didn’t need to look much further than the pile of bodies at the finish line of Saturday’s Rocky Mountain Division Winter Start competition to know it.

One by one, as 5K and 10K skiers hit the red stripe to conclude the annual kickoff event, they collapsed with a combination of exhaustion from the treacherous Howelsen Hill course and relief that the season is finally here.

"That race was brutal," U.S. Ski Team member and former Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athlete Ben Berend said after he peeled himself off the snow.

Berend came into the senior division race as the favorite, a 34-second leader from his performance on the HS-100 ski jumps in the morning session. The 19-year-old had a day’s best jump score of 113 points, a fairly good cushion ahead of Park City Nordic Ski Club’s Stephen Schumann and fellow Ski Team teammate Jasper Good.

But none of those three finished first in the advanced division. That belonged to a former Winter Sports Club Nordic combined skier, Colin Delaney, who drove out from home in Lake Placid, New York, to get the season started.

Delaney, 23, roared back from a tight pack behind Berend to steal the lead after one of four laps on the 10K course, cruising ahead of all 14 racers to win in a total time of 26:56.

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Like the rest of the group, it was Delaney’s first action of the winter and his first competition back in Steamboat Springs since his training days last season. He decided to head back to Lake Placid to train and be closer to his family, and he was far from disappointed when Saturday was over.

"I just tried to ski smoothly tonight," Delaney said. "I started at the same time as Nicholas Madden (U.S. Ski Team), and Jasper Good was two seconds in front. I just tried to make sure I could stay with them for a bit at the beginning."

And about 3 kilometers into the race, Delaney made his push, gassing past his start bunch and skiing by Berend for an eventual 15-second win.

Good fought back after starting 40 seconds behind the leader to finish second with a total time of 27:11. U.S. Ski Team’s Michael Ward was third in 27:21 and Berend finished fourth in 27:41.

"I felt good and I felt powerful, so I started trying to pull away," Delaney said about his win. "I took the lead and pulled away from there."

In the U16 boy’s class, Decker Dean proved why he’s one of the budding stars in Nordic combined, taking his division-best ski jump on the HS-75 into a dominant cross country race. Dean finished the 5K course in 15:32, a full minute ahead of second-place finisher Elijah Vargas (16:33). Brenden Andrews was third in 18:41.

On the girls side, Winter Sports Club’s Esther Rose DelliQuadri was the lone female competitor in the HS-75 Nordic combined competition. She finished with a jump score of 145.5 and completed the 5K course in 18:21.

In the HS-100 special jumping competition, USA Ski Jumping’s Kevin Bickner took gold with 250.5 total points. Teammate Alex Haupt was second with 243.5 points and AJ Brown, another USA Ski Jumping member, was third with 236 points.

Central’s Emilee Anderson dominated the girls HS-100 with a 204 score. Logan Sankey, a newly named U.S. Women’s Ski Jumping team member, was second with 175 points, and Central’s Mollie Immens was third with 148.5 points.

In the HS-75 special jumping, Decker Dean paced all U16 boys with a 229.7-point jump. Park City’s Stephen Schumann was second (227.9 points) and Central’s Andrew Urlaub was third (213.9 points).

The U18 HS-75 special jumping competition was owned by Central competitors. Casey Larson won it with 226.9 points, Joe Hoffmann was second with 223.7 points and Nate Mattoon was third with 210.6 points.

The same was true for the U16 girls HS-75 competition, where Central’s Cara Larson, Anna Hoffman and Mollie Immens were first, second and third, respectively.

Sankey was the lone competitor in the U18 girls HS-75 jump.

The Rocky Mountain Division Winter Start serves as a tryout for the World Junior Championships and future Continental Cup competitions in both Nordic combined and special jumping.

Much of Saturday’s senior class competitors will be in Park City, Utah, next weekend for Continental Cup action.

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