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‘Spoil the party’: Back at full strength, Utes looking for fifth-straight NCAA ski title this weekend

Utah Utes skier Kaja Norbye competes in the ski slalom at the Utah Invitational at Spencer F. Eccles Olympic Mountain Center at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City, Utah, on Thursday, January 18, 2024.
Utah Utes skier Kaja Norbye competes in the ski slalom at the Utah Invitational at Spencer F. Eccles Olympic Mountain Center at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City, Utah, on Thursday, January 18, 2024. | Hunter Dyke

When you win four NCAA championships in a row, you tend to have a target on your back.

Heading into the 2024 NCAA ski championships this week, Utah director of skiing Fredrik Landstedt acknowledges that teams are vying to knock the Utes off of the mountaintop, and the pressure to win a fifth-straight title started even before the season began.

“I think the pressure is really in the preseason buildup. I mean, there’s definitely some pressure to stay on top and it gets harder and harder to stay on top.”

Utah ski coach Fredrik Landstedt

“I think the pressure is really in the preseason buildup. I mean, there’s definitely some pressure to stay on top and it gets harder and harder to stay on top,” Landstedt said. “So we really have to work even harder and work harder than any other team to try to stay ahead of them because they’re all chasing us and they’re all getting closer and closer. So we have to figure out ways to train harder or do things better to stay ahead.”

Though they’re the reigning champs, Landstedt’s Utes head into the NCAAs as a bit of an underdog after finishing second at the RMISA championships, third at the Denver Invitational, and third at the Colorado Invitational.

The Colorado Buffaloes, who will be skiing in their home state for the NCAA championships, won all three of those events and enter the title event as the favorite to win for the first time since 2015.

“When it comes down to the championship, I don’t think we have the pressure, really,” Landstedt said. “I mean this year, the pressure is all on CU because they’re hosting it and they’ve been winning the last three weeks including regional.”

The Utes had some difficult meets in February, in part because some of their best athletes were competing in February’s Ski World Cup and were unable to compete for the Utes. But with a complete roster for the NCAA championships, Utah feels good with where the team is at right now.

“I think we’ve timed it well this year,” junior Nordic skiier Joe Davies said. “I know in the past, sometimes it’s hard for athletes, the season is so long, it’s hard to maintain the shape all the way through. But this year I think we did a good job of everyone kind of being in good enough shape early on, but still not peaking too early. And now it seems like the past couple weeks we’ve all just been getting better and better results. And so hopefully that holds for one more week and we really time the peak well.”

Davies was one of the skiiers gone for the Denver Invitational and the Colorado Invitational, while skiing at the World Cup. He returned for the RMISA championships, picking up a win in the men’s 7.5K freestyle and placing second in the men’s 20K classic. Davies, who is in his first season at Utah after skiing the 2022 and 2023 seasons for Alaska Fairbanks, figures to be a big asset for the Utes this weekend.

“I know that Utah is one of the strongest ski teams in the country, and to get to be a part of that was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Davies said.

On the Alpine side, the Utes are led by junior Kaja Norbye, who was named the RMISA Conference’s women’s slalom MVP this year. Norbye worked her way back from a neck injury that kept her out of a lot of races last season and has been excellent in 2024, winning three events and landing on the podium six times this season.

“I also think when athletes come back from injuries, they appreciate the sport more because they’ve been held back from it,” Norbye said. “And I really had that feeling this year. I’m just trying to enjoy every single moment because coming fresh out on an injury, you don’t take anything for granted. So that has been a huge part of me really having fun and enjoying it this season.”

Steamboat Springs, Colorado, is the site of this year’s NCAA championships, with giant slalom at Steamboat Resort and the rest of the events being held at Howelsen Hill. Utah has skied the course before this year, at the Colorado Invitational, which gives it a leg up.

“We’ve all been there and raced it. But again, things can change in alpine skiing, it’s an outdoor sport,” Norbye said. “The snow conditions can change, the weather can change, course sets change. So just because we’ve been there doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but it’s for sure a great feeling to know that you know what the hill looks like.”

Madison Hoffman, Michelle Kervén and Norbye will compete in women’s alpine skiing for Utah, while Raphael Lessard, Sindre Myklebust and Mikkel Solbakken will represent the Utes in the men’s alpine competition. Karianne Dengerud, Sydney Palmer-Leger and Nina Schamberger will compete in women’s Nordic skiing, while Brian Bushey, Tom Mancini and Davies will compete in men’s Nordic skiing for the Utes.

Hoffman won the women’s giant slalom and women’s slalom at last year’s NCAAs and Davies, who was on Alaska Fairbanks at the time, won the 10K freestyle in 2023. The two hope to repeat those finishes at the 2024 championships.

The NCAA championships kick off on Wednesday with the giant slalom. The 5K and 10K freestyle take place Thursday, the slalom will be held Friday, and the 20K classic finishes things off Saturday in Steamboat Springs.

“We come there a little bit as underdog and we just like to go there and spoil the party for (Colorado),” Landstedt said.

2023 NCAA Division I Skiing Championships
Members of the Utah ski team pose for a picture after winning the 2023 NCAA ski championships held at Mount Van Hoevenberg on March 11, 2023, in North Elba, New York. Dustin Satloff, NCAA Photos | Dustin Satloff