The University of Utah will field a stronger ski team this year, based on the fact that all the skiers on the championship roster from last year returned, and third-year coach Eli Brown brought in, what he called, a number of "strong recruits."

"So, all in all, we're solid," he said as he prepared for the Utah Ski Invitational that begins today and ends on Monday.

"We're better across the board. And, we're fired up to get the season going. Our focus now is to get some good results. It would be great to win our own event, but right now we're looking to qualify individually so we can send a full team to the NCAAs again."

Giant slalom and slalom events will be held at Park City Mountain Resort, and the Nordic events at Soldier Hollow.

The Utes finished fourth in last year's NCAAs. Brown said this team has the potential to do "much better."

This will be the first full event of the young season. An alpine race was held earlier this month and the Utes finished fourth. That finish, stressed Brown, was not indicative of what his alpine squad is capable of.

"I would say our men's alpine team is extremely strong this year. Like I said, we're just looking to get the first race under our belt and score well in order to take off some of the pressure for qualifying," he noted.

The three teams to watch are the University of Colorado, the University of Denver and Utah. The University of New Mexico, which finished ahead of Utah in the alpine event, also could do well. Colorado won the race.

Looking down this year's roster, Snorri Einarsson of Norway, a sophomore, was second in the Nordic freestyle and won the Nordic classical at the NCAAs. A new recruit, Even Sletten of Norway has been pushing Einarsson and on occasion beating him.

On the women's Nordic side, Sara Schweiger, a junior from Germany, was Utah's top finishers in the nationals last year. She finished in the top 10 nine times last year. Newcomer Bo Kjersti brings depth to the team.

The men's alpine team is led by Tague Thorson, a junior from Park City. Brown said Thorson took the summer and fall off school and went to New Zealand to train on snow, "and should do very well this year."

He won both the GS and slalom in the Utes' race last year. Two new recruits — Thomas Zumbrunn of Switzerland and Lermann Lager of Norway — are expected to finish high.

And, on the women's alpine team, Mikaela Grassl, a junior from Sweden, was the Utes' top finisher in the NCAAs last year. She finished out of the top 10 only once last year. New recruit Eva Huckova has been beating "everyone and is showing she can be one of the top skiers in the country this year," said Brown.

"We do have a good team this year and the team is bonding. It's still early, but we're solid and we're better than last year," said Brown.

The men's GS and women's slalom will be held today in Park City. The men's slalom and women's GS will be Saturday. First runs will begin around 9 a.m. and the second at around 1 p.m.

The first Nordic race will be held today and the second on Monday.


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