Steamboat skiers step toward Junior Worlds | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat skiers step toward Junior Worlds

Steamboat's Elijah Vargas, left, charges toward the finish line with Park City skier Tucker Hoefler at a Junior Worlds qualifier last weekend in Park City. Vargas edged out Hoefler to place second in the event.

— The teams the United States plans to send to the World Juniors Nordic Championships in Park City, Utah, won't be official until later this week, but the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club skiers wrapped up the qualifying competitions for that event on a high note last weekend, and the club is poised to send several of its strongest skiers to Utah.

"We're expecting to see a good number of Steamboat athletes there," said Karl Denney, the club's U18/U16 Nordic combined coach.

The qualifying process for Worlds started last month in Steamboat Springs with a Nordic combined and special jumping event. Grant Andrews, a Steamboat Springs skier now living and competing in Park City, won that night and followed it up with two more strong finishes this weekend at the final two qualifying events — a third and a fifth.

Koby Vargas, another Steamboater training in Park City, had fifth- and sixth-place finishes.

No one may have made up more ground than Koby's younger brother, Elijah Vargas. He uncorked one of his best jumps to start with the lead in the first Nordic combined event, then raced well there. He went on to finish second and was only passed by U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team member Stephen Schumann, back from the Continental Cup for the competition.

Vargas then came back to finish sixth in the second competition.

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"He's hitting his stride," Berend said. "He's always a really consistently fast cross-country skier, and his strength is usually on the course. He stepped it up jumping and that landed him on the podium."

Ben Loomis, another U.S. teamer, only competed once last weekend and won that race, putting him in great position to qualify for Worlds. He'll have plenty of experience contending with world-class competition as he's headed this week to ski in Finland with the Nordic combined World Cup.

Elsewhere for Steamboat, Decker Dean was seventh both days, leaving him a stretch to make the Worlds team in Nordic combined but still with good possibilities in special jumping.

Brenden Andrews was 10th in one race while Bennett Gamber was 11th twice.

A number of Steamboat special jumpers also came away from the weekend with strong results, none more outstanding than Annika Belshaw.

Belshaw is actually too young to compete at Worlds, which may be good news for her fellow competitors because she was red hot in Park City. She was second in the first competition then third a day later.

Logan Sankey, a Steamboat jumper on the U.S. women's jumping team, was fourth and fifth. Hana Schrock and Esther Delliquadri placed 10th and 11th respectively both days.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9