Racer friends sweep slalom

When they are on the road, ski racers Christina Roberts and Heidi Hillenbrand are never far apart.

They share a love of skiing in training, a room when they are traveling and, more recently, they have shared in one another's success on the racecourse.

Last weekend, the Steamboat athletes swept a pair of slalom races at the Winter Games in Park City, Utah -- it was the latest accomplishment on the road to the J-2 Nationals for both skiers.

"Whenever I get on a slalom course, the person I'm looking out for is Heidi," Roberts said.

Hillenbrand overcame a mistake on her first run in a slalom race Saturday to post her first victory of the season. College racer Lina Johansson was second, and former Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club member Jennifer Shively finished third.

While some of the field of top college and regional racers may have been surprised, Hillenbrand's coach, Sue Schwartz, was not.

"Tina and Heidi have been on a roll lately," Schwartz said. "Our girls are some of the best in the country right now."

Roberts was sixth in that race, and teammate Emily Colin was 11th.

But Roberts wasn't going to be outdone, The next day, in the second and final slalom race of the series, Roberts skied to the top spot, followed by Buck Hill's Claire Abbey in second, and Slovenian skier Lea Lozar in third. Hillenbrand skied off course in the first run of that race.

"It was a big weekend for both Heidi and me," Roberts said. "I didn't really know what to expect at the races, but I knew (winning) was a possibility when Heidi won."

Roberts, one of the top 16-year-old slalom racers in the country, said her biggest rival these days also is one of her best friends.

"We have been building off of each other all year," Hillenbrand said. "When Tina wins, it gives me the confidence to know that I can do it, too."

Steamboat ski coach Sue Schwartz said the finishes in Utah were important for the Steamboat skiers but are really just a part of the progression toward their end-of-season goals.

She is hoping the skiers will stay grounded over the next few months as they take part in several races that will be used as qualifiers for the J-2 Nationals, which will take place in Lake Placid, N.Y., in March.

"Getting wins in these Utah races was nice, but we just need to keep it in perspective," Schwartz said. "There are a lot of big races left this season, and these girls are still working toward their goals."

Schwartz said that Roberts and Hillenbrand are just a few of the top ski racers who were born in 1987. Sixteen-year-old Megan McJames, from Park City, Utah, proved herself last week. She placed second in a giant slalom race Jan. 7. The top Steamboat finisher in that race was Colin in fifth; Roberts was 14th; and Lindsay McClure was 25th. McJames also picked up a third-place finish in another giant slalom race Thursday.

Roberts was 14th; Colin was 18th; and Steamboat's Lisa Perricone, who is recovering from a broken collarbone, placed 24th.

Other top Steamboat results included Brede Halsnes' second in a men's slalom in Snowbasin on Jan. 7, and David Lamb's victory in another giant slalom race Saturday.

After the Utah races, the members of the Steamboat Springs ability team broke into several different groups.

--To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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