The Olympics are over, but the big event for college skiers is in Steamboat, Colo., this week. When the NCAA Championships get under way on Wednesday, eight skiers from Bates College will take a shot at a national title.

The competition in slalom, giant slalom and cross country for men and women will take place over four days, and the Bobcats will have five Alpine skiers and three in cross country, led by Alpine coach Rogan Connell and Cross-country coach Becky Woods. Longtime coach Bob Flynn says he’s just along for the ride.

Cross-country skier Seth Hubbard, a Farmington senior who took fourth in the 20-kilometer at the Dartmouth Carnival, will compete. Kaitlyn McElroy, a Gould Academy sophomore from Bethel, has consistently been in the top 20 in events this season. Sylvan Ellefson of Vail, Colo., has three top 10s in classic this season.

On the Alpine side, Gould senior Sean McKenna of Manchester, N.H., lost the first month and half of the season, but has come on strong since. At the Williams Carnival, he won the second run of the slalom to move from 22nd to seventh. The others are sophomore Leo Menard of Portland, Whitney Fahy of Carrabassett Valley, freshman Megan Papineau of Keene, N.Y., and freshman Elizabeth Thompson of Rangeley.

According to Woods, the biggest challenge for the cross country team in this snowless winter had been finding places to train. The team performed well in carnivals, and she feels they can do well at Steamboat. The challenge for eastern skiers, especially in cross country, is altitude. The base of the ski area, while not as high as many Colorado resorts, is still at 6,900 feet, and athletes will need to become acclimated.

Rogan was optimistic about his skiers scoring some points. His skiers have had a number of top-10 finishes, and if a skier like McKenna can win a slalom run, he certainly has a shot at a medal. The alpine skiers travel to Sunday River every day for training, and Rogan said the variety of terrain available has played a key role in preparing the team.

No one expects Bates to win the title against the traditional powerhouses like Dartmouth, Vermont, New Hampshire, Colorado and others, but the school continues to attract good skiers. Woods, a Bates graduate who has coached at the school for 14 years, attributes recruiting success to quality skiers and Bates’ quality of the education.

The should be other Maine skiers from other schools competing in the NCAAs. Kingfield’s Forest Carey is expected to be there. After his time with the U.S. Ski Team, Carey attended Middlebury College where he achieved All-American status as a skier and is now the head ski coach.

Bates has produced a number of U.S. team caliber skiers. David Chamberlain, who just missed this year’s team, is a Bates grad, and Kris Freeman, who was on this year’s cross country team, attended the school.

Another Maine skier has also performed well this season. Farmington’s David Digravio finished third in a World Cup mogul competition in Korea last week. He will be at the World Cup mogul finals and the National Championships at Killington on March 23-26.

The alpine skiers have plenty of action left before they gather at Sugarloaf for this year’s National Championships, March 25-29. The men have GS and SL races in Korea and Japan before the finals in Are, Sweden, on March 15-19.

The women have it a little easier for travel with races in Norway and Finland before joining the men for the finals.

At this time, most of the U.S. Team is expected for the National Championships at Sugarloaf, and there will be a lot of skiers who weren’t at the Olympics. Skiers who have been toiling at the Nor-Am level get a shot at these season-ending races, and a strong showing can vault a skier to next year’s World Cup team.

For one Maine skier, the Nationals will be a special homecoming. Kirsten Clark not only attended CVA, but she has skied in the Nationals at Sugarloaf in the past, and her record in the championships is impressive. She has six national titles, including a record four straight in downhill. She missed an opportunity to extend the record when the downhill was canceled in 2002, and she missed it with an injury in 2004. With this year’s races on the Narrow Gauge, the Raymond skier has a great shot at adding another title.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer who lives in Westbrook.

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