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State skiing: Nederland ready to take advantage of home-hill edge

NEDERLAND — The Nederland High School ski team is annually one of the top teams in the state and the Panthers will bring a decided advantage to this year’s state meet on Thursday and Friday.

With Colorado’s top skiers as spread out as they are, travel time and weather can have a big impact on teams’ performance when they all congregate for the season’s final meet. With the state meet at Eldora Mountain Resort this year, however, the Panthers don’t have to worry about that.

Replacing the travel factor with the home-hill advantage of competing on their daily practice ground, the host Panthers will be as comfortable as they have been all season when the state meet begins Thursday.

“It’s fantastic. We’ve been traveling a lot this winter so it’s nice to get to stay home,” Panthers alpine coach Chantal Knapp said. “The kids are excited to be on our home hill. Eldora has been really nice and they’ve closed the trail to the public and allowed us to train on the race hill. It’s definitely an advantage to have everyone come here to our resort.”

La Belle Dame, the trail Eldora uses most often when hosting races, will serve as the battlefield for this year’s alpine championships.

Both the Panthers boys and girls alpine teams are strong and deep this year. The girls, who placed fourth last year, have three seniors – Keile Kropf, Bailey Kuechenmeister and Raina Galbiati – who have a good chance to finish within the top five in either giant slalom or slalom, especially on their home turf.

Of course, hosting the state ski championships is just a free advantage awarded to whichever program wins some lottery. Each year, the host team has to put a lot of work into getting everything ready to provide a smooth, fun experience for all the teams.

The host team is responsible for making arrangements with the hosting resort, setting up the courses, creating detailed information sheets for coaches, providing volunteers with lunches and complementary lift tickets, and organizing and securing space for pre- and post-meet banquets, to name a few things.

“We’ve taken care of almost entirely everything except for what CHSAA provides in terms of the judges, merchandise and awards,” Knapp said. “Without our parent committee and our administrative staff, we would never be executing so well and on time.”

The Panthers nordic teams will have similar advantages after having the past few weeks to familiarize themselves with the tracks and terrain at Eldora. The classic course will be a shorter, two-lap course. The freestyle course will be a larger one-lap course. Each course begins and ends at the Eldora Nordic Center.

“We know the trails really well. It’s a fair amount of work that goes into it but it really comes down,” Panthers nordic coach David Femmer said. “We’ve skied some combination of the trails all season and once we had the courses finalized, we’ve been almost exclusively been skiing on those.”

The two-time defending Skimeister, awarded to the state’s top all-around skier, Kuechenmeister is also the Panthers’ top nordic contender. Junior James McNamara is the Panthers boys’ best hope to place high.

While the Panthers are all excited to see how much they can make of their home-hill advantage, Nederland athletic director Jack Taylor said working to secure it has been no picnic for the Panthers’ coaches. Still, the coaches agreed that once the competition begins Thursday morning, it will all have been worth it.

“The job of ski coach is pretty demanding,” Taylor said. “They’ve been working hard to get everything ready and set the course and get all the skis ready and do it all in the wind, cold and snow. They spend a lot of hours getting everything ready and train alongside the skiers so it’s tough.”

The state championships will begin with GS at 9:15 a.m. on Thursday and classic nordic will follow at 3:30 p.m. On Friday, slalom will begin at 9:15 a.m. and freestyle nordic will begin at 3:30 p.m.

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