One by one the Laramie girls varsity skiers grabbed their lunches and took a table in the corner of the Hogadon Lodge. They had just completed their first runs of the Bruce Studer Memorial Invitational and proceeded to swap stories of the slopes over burgers and fries.
Their laughter and conversation built in stereo as more skiers filed in for lunch before second runs began Friday afternoon.
Not far away, the Pinedale girls filled their CamelBaks, commented about the beautiful weather and waited to find a spot to sit as a pack. The Wranglers discussed how they had done individually on the icy racing surface before finding some Jackson skiers and asking how their first slaloms down Dreadnought went.
School colors and mascots didn’t matter on the first day of competition on Casper Mountain. What mattered was that familiar faces were back on skis together, and they reveled in each other’s successes.
“It is a lot like that,” Natrona coach Jon Miller said when asked if there was a skier’s fraternity. “Everyone supports each other, regardless of which school they go to. You don’t get that with basketball or wrestling.”
Bonds like that are easy to obtain when you’re stuck with each other for hours on end.
The Bruce Studer Memorial Invite is the first alpine meet of the year, but teams will travel all over Wyoming and beyond the rest of the season. Laramie, Pinedale and Jackson will each host meets while Cody’s annual home meet is held in Red Lodge, Montana.
That means a lot of miles for the Plainsmen, who will host the next meet before traveling 306 miles to Pinedale.
“A lot of long bus rides ...,” Laramie coach Rebecca Watson said before grabbing a fry out of a skier’s basket.
“Long and cramped,” one Laramie skier interjected. “You get pretty sore after awhile.”
It was then explained that most of the Laramie girls stay in the back of the bus and occupy themselves with music, jokes and the occasional nap on the long road to ski meets.
The same could be said for the Jackson skiers, who had the longest trip to this weekend’s meet. Regardless of the miles, however, the Broncs had a typically strong turnout behind the leadership of defending state runner-up Mary Margaret Grassell.
Grassell finished with a time of 49.36 seconds on her first run to lead after the first day of competition heading into the GS on Saturday. She was flanked by three Jackson teammates: SJ Huser, Anna Barker and Abby Walker to round out the top four of the slalom.
Despite team affiliation, the definitive theme to Friday at Hogadon was: girls go fast.
The top five girls skiers all finished in under 1 minute, 50 seconds, compared to only three on the boys side.
“The girls here are so fast,” Watson said. “They are just as fast as the boys, if not faster. There’s a lot of returners that did really well at state last year.”
Natrona’s Sarah Galles, who finished eighth at the state meet last year, is seventh in the standings.
She was in fourth place after a sharp first run, having picked up speed on the second turn and stayed tucked the rest of the way to the finish line. A steeper drop-off than others in her second run gave her a combined time of 1:53.
Not far behind Galles, in ninth place, was Tori Strom of Kelly Walsh. Strom finished 21st in the slalom at the 2016 state meet but ended Friday with a combined time of 2:04. Her teammate Alexis White finished 6 seconds behind to place 10th.
While the girls may have stolen some of the spotlight, the Jackson boys had a contest for first place.
Ben Klaumann led after the first run, but the choppy surface got the better of him on the second run and allowed Garrison Fadala to win the slalom by just under 2 seconds.
Logan Eggleston of Kelly Walsh made a play for the top 5 after a strong first run but was ultimately forced to settle for sixth. Abram Nansen just missed out on a top-10 finish for the Trojans, coming in 11th.
Taylor Maese’s second run was the talk of the boys once his day finished. Maese was 22nd after a lack-luster first run but rebounded with the ninth-best time among second runs that vaulted him to 19th.
Natrona’s boys were represented by Zach Beran, whose combined time of 2:20 was good enough for 14th in the slalom.
The GS portion of the invite begins with first runs at 9:30 at Hogadon on Saturday.