Four years ago, when Ned Randolph first stepped into a set of three pins to try telemark skiing, his friends told him to keep it simple. Stay away from the "big boys" they advised.

Randolph, who came to Snowbird four years ago to work for the race department there, didn't listen. Sunday, he got in and mixed it up with the "big boys" and proved beyond question he was one of them. Randolph won the U.S. National Telemark Championships. The event featured the biggest names in telemark racing from coast to coast.It was, he said as he waited word of his final run, the reaching of a goal and "right now I'm a little light headed and weak. It got a little shaky up there on both (final) runs.

"I wasn't sure at the start I could win it, but as the day wore on I knew I could. Considering everything, I skied well."

Heather Laing of Carbon, Colo., won the women's title.

The race started Saturday with nearly 100 men and women attempting to qualify for the Sunday finals. Randolph, even with the second fastest time on the first attempt, missed because of improper telemark turns on the icy top section of the course. He had to make the 32-skier field on the second and last try.

Under the telemark racing format, skiers must make a telemark turn lead ski forward, trailing ski back, knees bent around every gate or be penalized one second for each mistake. Also, a race is run side-by-side, with skiers switching courses for a second run and the skier with the best time and lowest penalties advancing.

As luck would have it, Randolph went against another of Utah's top skiers, Chris Larson in the second round. That started Randolph thinking national title. Larson had won the final Intermountain race on Friday, against this very field.

In the third round, he beat Peter Ruchimer of Bozeman, Mont.

Then, in the semifinal, he went against another of the top skiers, David Edwards of Carb, Colo. Again Randolph was the clear winner.

In the finals he met Armin Bischofberger of Londonberry, Vt.

Bischofberger was runner-up last year and a favorite for this event. In the opening round, in fact, he evened the score by beating last year's winner, Whitney Thorlow of Crystal Mountain, Wash.

On the first run, Bischofberger beat Randolph by less than the length of a ski eight-hundredths of a second. On the second run, Randolph pressed hard the last few gates and beat Bischofberger by 11-hundredths. Neither skier was penalized so the times stood.

What makes the win even sweeter for Randolph is that last year, during a telemark race, just a few gates from the finish, he twisted wrong and seriously injured his knee.

Sunday, he admitted the knee is better, "but it's not completely right. I can't angulate as well as I could before the injury. Today, though, I didn't have to as much. The ruts helped. On ice (Saturday) I had trouble, but today was better."

Bischofberger made it into the third round by beating another of Utah's top telemark skiers, Charlie Hassard. Another local, Jim Poore of Park City, lost in the opening round.

In the finals of the women's race Laing beat Cindy Sprague of Charlotte, Vt. Laing led after the first run by two-tenths of a second. On the second run, Sprague lost her balance about midway down the course and fell. Laing looked back and fell three gates from the finish, but got up and finished to win.