The good news is the University of Utah was without two of its top cross country skiers on Sunday. Given the fact, of course, that the Utes lost the Utah Ski Invitational to Colorado by only 25 1/2 points.
Add to that the fact that the Utes lost 30 points to the Buffaloes in the classical cross country on Sunday at the White Pine Touring Center, a spread that would have been considerably less - even likely to the plus side - had their two top nordic skiers been on the track.Illness, however, kept them off the track for two days and kept the Utes weak in the men's nordic. Which simply means at full strength the Utes are once again a power.
Final scores had Colorado with 424, Utah with 3981/2, Alaska/Anchorage 3571/2, New Mexico 319, Denver 310, Western States 262, Nevada 206 and Montana State 60.
Utah actually went into the classical cross country Sunday with a 41/2 point lead, which is impressive in itself because Utah gave up an additional 30 points in the men's cross country freestyle on Saturday.
"It's a good beginning," said Utah director of skiing Pat Miller. "We're not at full strength and we shouldn't be at this point. It's a long way until March (and the NCAA Championships). Considering this is the first meet and the illnesses, this is good."
He said he was especially pleased with some events, like the women's freestyle Saturday, won by Utah, and the slalom events on Saturday, also won by Utah.
Sunday's race was a test of skill and pain threshold. The temperature at race time was zero, without figuring in the wind-chill factor. Several skiers, in fact, suffered mild cases of frostbite.
Also, the cold - coupled with fresh snow - made conditions sticky and slow. The slow track and the cold pushed racers to the absolute limit.
Winning the 15-kilometer men's event was Frode Lillifjell of Alaska, who also won the freestyle on Saturday. He was, as in the freestyle, in a race by himself. He had a large lead after 5 Ks, extended it at the 10-K mark and finished more than two minutes ahead of a pack of 11 racing for second with a time of 50 minutes, 7 seconds..
Second was teammate John Blandhoel at 52:15. Utah's Hakon Skjonberg was third, finishing only a few feet behind Blandhoel with an identical time of 52:15.
Utah's Kurt Wulff was 11th and Jesse Lassley was 25th.
The women's 10K race was much closer. Utah's Kristin Thjelle and Colorado's Eva Lowe sprinted to the finish line. Thejelle won by a mere two-hundredths of a second - 41:03 to 41:05. Colorado's Anne Tysso was third at 41:38.
Other Ute finishers were Ingvil Snofugl in 10th and Martine Munthe-Kaas in 17th.
This was to have been the second race in the Western Series, but heavy rain two weeks ago forced postponement of a race in Reno.
Not so lucky was Snowbird. The King of the Mountain Downhill moved from Saturday to Sunday because of heavy snow, was canceled all together because conditions were too soft to run a downhill.