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Mikaela Shiffrin finally conquers elusive giant slalom in Italy for 53rd career win

SAN VIGILIO DI MAREBBE, Italy — Mikaela Shiffrin had this race specially marked on her calendar.

There are few courses the American skier has not been able to conquer in her record-breaking career. Yet a victory — or even a podium finish — had eluded her on the steep Erta slope at the Kronplatz resort.

So she came to San Vigilio over the Christmas holiday and did some free skiing on the Erta. The attention to detail paid off. She won the World Cup giant slalom here on Tuesday and banished poor memories.

"There's not too many races where I had such a struggle as here. And when I come to a race like this I have to overcome that as well. It's a little bit more doubt," Shiffrin said. "Today I was thinking, 'The course looks amazing and I have no idea how I can do but I know what I should do. So I'm going to try that and see.' But that's also a different kind of challenge, and when I can overcome that kind of challenge it's also a really good learning experience."

Shiffrin often does not celebrate her victories, but she raised her arms emphatically to rejoice over this one.

"When I came here I was thinking, 'Well the last years didn't go so well for me.' I always struggled with this hill. But I was still excited to ski on it and to prove to myself that I can ski it fast and make it to the finish."

Having established a massive 1.39-second advantage in the opening leg, Shiffrin finished a comfortable 1.21 seconds ahead of Tessa Worley of France in perfect conditions to earn her 10th victory of the season.

Marta Bassino of Italy moved up from fourth after the first run to finish third, 1.57 back.

The overall World Cup leader and Olympic champion in giant slalom, Shiffrin is within striking distance of the all-time record of 14 wins in a single season, set by Swiss great Vreni Schneider in 1988-89. Lindsey Vonn is second on the list with 12 wins in 2011-12.

It was the 53rd win of Shiffrin's career, and first in San Vigilio.

Shiffrin was fifth here in 2017 and had an uncharacteristic fall in the first run last year, producing the unusual sight of her falling on a slope that features a 61 percent gradient — one of the steepest tests on the women's circuit.

Then she went out and produced a first run that "was maybe my best run in GS in a race that I ever did."

"But I even felt like, 'OK, I can be more precise.' So it was a good mindset to go in the second run. I wasn't trying to protect the win, I was trying to ski another run like I did in the first and maybe in some terms better. Both runs the whole day were really perfect."

Shiffrin claimed the lead in the GS standings, moving 10 points ahead of Worley and 45 points ahead of previous leader Federica Brignone of Italy, who finished sixth.

It was Worley's third straight podium result following third-place finishes in GS races in Courchevel, France, and Semmering, Austria — having won the season-opening GS in Soelden, Austria, in October.

"I'm battling with the first places in every race," Worley said. "A lot of girls are able to get on the podium."

Bassino matched her third-place result on this course from two years ago, having finished fourth last year, and ended a podium drought in GS dating to the 2016-17 season.

"To finally do it here in Italy with this crowd is an amazing feeling," Bassino said.

Petra Vlhova of Slovakia finished fourth and Viktoria Rebensburg, the German who won this race last year, came fifth.

In the overall standings, Shiffrin extended her lead over Vlhova to a whopping 496 points as she seeks a third straight title.

Nina O'Brien, Shiffrin's teammate and a university student, finished 26th for her first career points in GS.

Up next on the women's circuit are two downhills and a super-G in nearby Cortina d'Ampezzo from Friday to Sunday.

Shiffrin plans to skip the Cortina downhills but will race the super-G, while Lindsey Vonn will open her injury-delayed season in Cortina.

Briefs Jan. 15: Aspen boys, girls basketball sweeps Vail Mountain

Aspen boys and girls sweep through Vail Mountain School

The Aspen High School boys and girls basketball teams swept through host Vail Mountain School on Tuesday night.

The AHS boys won 65-42 for their second straight victory. The Skiers jumped out to a 24-9 lead after the first quarter and held on from there. AHS had four different players finish in double figures, led by the 18 of Noah Hollander. Aspen improved to 4-6 overall.

The AHS girls won 43-9 to improve to 3-5 overall. This is the first time the AHS girls basketball team has won more than two games in a single season since going 10-12 overall during the 2011-12 season, according to MaxPreps.

Both the Aspen boys and girls will next host Gunnison on Friday night in their league openers.

Also Friday, the AHS girls swim team is scheduled to host Summit in a home dual. The swimmers are only a few weeks away from the conference championships and then it's on to state.

On Saturday, the AHS hockey team will host Resurrection Christian at 6 p.m. inside the Aspen Ice Garden.

Basalt High boys, girls basketball teams lose on the road at Vail Christian

The Basalt High School boys basketball team played Tuesday night at Vail Christian, falling 64-42. The loss dropped the Longhorns to 2-9 overall.

The Basalt girls basketball team dropped a 55-34 decision at Vail Christian on Tuesday. BHS fell to 1-10 overall on the season.

BHS will host Gunnison on Saturday.

Colorado Mountain College in Leadville to host Colorado Cup races on Jan. 26

This year's Colorado Cup races at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville will feature a 6.4-kilometer skate ski race, an 8K fat-tire bike race and 5K, 10K, sprint and medley snowshoe races.

This year's competitions are scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 26, at CMC's Leadville campus. Competitors from beginner to expert level are welcome to participate in each racing discipline.

The Colorado Cup races will start at 8 a.m. and will continue through noon. Entry fees for each competition range from $20 to $40. Interested participants can register online at RunningClub.coloradomtn.edu.

All proceeds will benefit the Colorado Mountain College Competition Club, which supports the school's running club. The running club is the official host of this year's Colorado Cup races.

The 5K snowshoe race will again determine the Colorado High School Snowshoe State Championship, as it has since 2010. Last year, Summit High racer Jeremiah Vaille won the competition. Snowshoe racers will compete on the trail system surrounding CMC's Leadville campus.

— Antonio Olivero, Summit Daily

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Colbert’s Prep Playbook: Remember that Michael Glen kid from BHS?

The high school basketball season here in the Roaring Fork Valley is, well, in development. In all fairness to the Roaring Fork girls, who are a solid 7-4 overall, it's been a rough go for area teams.

So, before we hop into this week's slate of games, I wanted to point out some good basketball news. Remember that Michael Glen kid, who graduated from Basalt a few years ago? Remember when he led the Longhorns to the state quarterfinals his senior year in 2017 and finished his career with 1,390 points, 694 rebounds and 169 blocked shots?

Do you remember when Glen signed with the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, an NCAA Division II school playing out of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference? Remember how he was named the RMAC freshman of the year?

Well, he's having a pretty solid sophomore season, as well. The Orediggers limped out to a 1-3 start this winter, but have won 11 straight to reach 12-3 overall. They are a perfect 9-0 in RMAC play and have a two-game lead in the conference.

Glen, who is listed as a 6-foot-7, 200-pound forward, has started all 15 games for the Mines. He started 30 of 31 games as a freshman. As a sophomore, he is averaging 10.4 points per game, which is fifth-best on the team. He leads the Orediggers with 6.5 rebounds per game and is tied for second on the team with 18 blocked shots.

If you find yourself on the Front Range soon, might be worth checking him out in person. The Orediggers next play Friday at home against the South Dakota Mines. They also host Black Hills State on Saturday. The postseason gets rolling in early March.

His younger sister, Taylor Glen, is a junior at Basalt and a pretty solid basketball player herself. Although, soccer might be her best sport.

WHAT'S ON DECK

Both Aspen and Basalt teams are back in action Tuesday. BHS heads to Vail Christian, with both boys and girls teams really needing a win. AHS will be at Vail Mountain. The Aspen boys (3-6 overall) have to be feeling a little better after routing Cedaredge 57-40 on Friday in what has to be their best win of the season. Maybe they have turned a corner?

Both Aspen teams will then host Gunnison on Friday night. Basalt hosts Gunnison on Saturday.

The other home game this week involves Aspen hockey. The Skiers will host Resurrection Christian on Saturday night at the Aspen Ice Garden. That game now is at 6 p.m. It will be the final home game of the regular season for AHS, as its final six are on the road.

The AHS girls swim team will host Summit in a meet on Friday afternoon. The swim season is fast approaching its conclusion with conference and state championships coming up in early February.

Aspen hockey, currently 5-4-2 overall, is coming off a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to a ranked Fort Collins team. AHS does lead the Peak Conference by a couple of points over Crested Butte, however. Those teams will play each other on back-to-back days (Feb. 8-9) in Gunnison.

If you want some more local action this week, you can always check out the Wilder Dwight Classic speed races (skiing) at Aspen Highlands beginning Friday, or there is the Aspen Ice Spectacular on Saturday (2 and 5 p.m. shows) at Lewis Ice Arena, featuring a few Olympic figure skaters, including Aspen's own Jeremy Abbott.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Snowboarder Chris Corning podiums at Austrian World Cup slopestyle event

SUMMIT COUNTY — Chris Corning podiumed this past weekend at a World Cup slopestyle event in Austria, his first event since finishing an impressive second at last month's Dew Tour at Breckenridge Ski Resort.

The 19-year-old Silverthorne snowboarder and former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athlete earned another second-place finish on the slopestyle course in Kreischberg, Austria, with a score of 84.75, behind winner Mons Roisland of Norway (88.75).

The second-place finish slightly closed the gap between Corning and Japanese teen rider Takeru Otsuka in the season-long International Ski & Snowboard Federation World Cup standings. Corning's second-place finish at Kreischberg earned him 800 World Cup points to improve his point total on the season to 2,890, behind only the 17-year-old Otsuka (4,100) in the overall park and pipe race.

Corning has gotten the better of Otsuka, though, at the most recent two competitions where they both competed. That included his second-place finish at the Dew Tour slopestyle competition and his second-place finish on Saturday in Kreischberg, where he earned that 84.75 on his third and final run through the relatively atypical slopestyle course while Otsuka finished in fourth place.

The Kreischberg course consisted of features that alternated between rails and jumps throughout the entire course. Comparatively, at last month's Dew Tour, the rails and jumps were separated into two distinct sections that were scored completely separately and at different times. Also, at last February's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the slopestyle course consisted of several rail features at first before transitioning to the jumps to conclude the all-in-one run through the course.

Corning began his podium-placing run through the Kreischberg course on an up, flat-down rail feature. On the feature, he executed a backside 270-onto the feature, and then a 270-off of the feature, which he gapped all the way to the down portion of the feature. A 270-on means the snowboarder rotates 270 horizontal degrees while jumping onto the rail while a 270-off means the snowboarder rotates 270 degrees after jumping off of the rail. The "gap" means Corning soared in the air over the up portion of the rail before landing on the down.

Corning said the quick transition from the first rail feature to the second was difficult due to its steepness, which required him to slow his speed before that second rail feature: an up rail into a flat rail. On that feature, Corning rode in switch (with his opposite lead foot), before board-sliding up the rail before executing a 450-degree rotation over the flat portion of the rail into the landing.

Corning then rode his customary goofy-foot style into the first of the course's three jumps, where he executed a frontside, flat-spin 144. The move required Corning to rotate toward his board's front side for four full 360-degree rotations. And it came on this jump course, which Corning said consisted of jumps 60 to 70-percent as tall as the jumps at last month's Dew Tour at Breckenridge.

"I was able to do the tricks I wanted to do on the jumps," Corning said of the course's design. "It just made it so I had to go further on the landings than I normally would like to and just spin a lot faster than usual, which is fine. It makes it harder to land consistently."

Corning rode off that first jump goofy before mustering to turn around a back-side, triple-cork 1440 despite the short height of the jump. To land the move, Corning kept his rotation and torque tight and powerful on his vertical axis despite taking a relatively flat jump line. With the low line through the air, Corning landing deep on the jump's bottom portion.

That deep landing on that second jump was followed by the third and final rail feature, which Corning described as a canon rail into a butter box. On this feature, Corning's main focus when strategizing his overall run was to depart the butter box feature riding with his left foot forward. That was in order to execute a switch trick on the course's final jump.

With that in mind, Corning executed a board-slide up the canon rail into a 270-off of the canon rail into the down portion of the butter box. Then on the flat portion of the butter box, Corning launched off the box and landed his customary rodeo flip. Then, on the final jump, Corning pumped his fist in celebration after landing a flat-spin cab 1260.

Following the Austrian World Cup event, Corning will next compete in this weekend's World Cup slopestyle event in Laax, Switzerland, with the finals scheduled for Friday. Corning predicted this weekend's competition to be at a higher level than Kreischberg.

"This contest is always really heavy," Corning said from Laax. "They always have really good jumps out here."

Corning was the top American finisher in Kreischberg, ahead of Californian Judd Henkes (sixth), Alaskan Ryan Stassel (eighth) and Will Healy of Connecticut (22nd), among a few others. Steamboat Springs rider Nik Baden is scheduled to compete in Laax this weekend while, at the moment, neither Red Gerard or Kyle Mack of Summit County are in Laax preparing to compete.

Corning also is expected to compete in both big air and slopestyle at X Games Aspen, which runs from Jan. 24 to 27 at Buttermilk Ski Area.

aolivero@summitdaily.com

Shiffrin scales back schedule to avoid more fatigue, to skip upcoming downhills

SAN VIGILIO DI MAREBBE, Italy — Battling fatigue from seven races in 19 days, Mikaela Shiffrin is scaling back her schedule.

The overall World Cup ski leader will not compete in two downhills in Cortina d'Ampezzo this week as originally planned.

"It was on her A plan from the beginning of the season but speed is something that you don't take part in when you have fatigue and that's either mental fatigue or physical fatigue and in this case she has a bit of both," Mike Day, Shiffrin's head coach with the U.S. Ski Team, told The Associated Press on Monday. "It's been a line that we've drawn from the start with regards to speed."

So, following a giant slalom at Kronplatz on Tuesday, Shiffrin will shift to more training before likely returning for a super-G on Sunday in Cortina. The downhills she will skip are scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

"It's not the smartest choice for us and we're going to get some more rest and do a little super-G training and see how that goes and make a decision as we work through the week," Day said.

While known as a technical specialist for her near-domination in slalom and giant slalom, Shiffrin also leads the super-G standings this season — by 25 points ahead of Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway.

"It really has very little to do with (the super-G lead)," Day said. "If you look forward from there it's unlikely that she's going to compete in many or any more super-Gs. So it's not defending it at this point, it's just getting some super-G training in and getting ready for world champs."

Shiffrin will be a multi-medal threat at the worlds in Are, Sweden, in February. The American won gold in giant slalom and silver in combined at last year's Pyeongchang Olympics but came fourth in the slalom — normally her best event.

So, will she compete in the super-G at the worlds, the opening event on Feb. 5?

"There's some interest there," Day said. "We still haven't defined what exactly our A plan is going to be. It's not easy to go up there for the first event and then wait around for the tech events. We have a lot of plans in play and we just have to make the smartest choice and give her the best chances to succeed."

During that span of seven races in 19 days from Dec. 21 to Jan. 8, Shiffrin posted four victories, finished second twice, and came fifth. In all, she has nine wins this season, putting her within striking distance of the all-time record of 14 set by Swiss great Vreni Schneider in 1988-89.

The grueling 19-day span took Shiffrin from France to Austria then up to Norway and down to Croatia before finally concluding in Flachau, Austria.

"After Flachau we had to find some rest," Day said. "Flachau was a point where her tank was running super low and now we're just trying to fill the tank back up as we move forward toward world championships."

Shiffrin is determined to win at Kronplatz after failing to reach the podium in her first two races there. Shiffrin finished fifth in San Vigilio in 2017 and last year had an uncharacteristic fall in the first run, losing control as she entered the toughest section of a slope named Erta, which translates as steep. With a gradient of 61 percent in that section, the fall produced the unlikely sight of Shiffrin falling a long way down the slope.

Perhaps with those results in mind, Shiffrin spent the Christmas holiday in San Vigilio and did some free skiing on the Erta.

"Familiarity with the terrain and comfort with the hill. It never hurts to get some trips down it," Day said. "I expect her to come out with some fire and wanting to improve what has been her recent history here. Last year she was skiing very aggressively — which was something we were looking for — and then she just made a silly mistake in the wrong spot. And this is the type of hill where you can't make those mistakes, especially in the spots like the main pitch that are really sharp and steep."

Over Christmas, Shiffrin stayed at the Moelgg Dolomites Residence, which is run by the family of Manfred and Manuela Moelgg, current and recently retired World Cup skiers. The Moelggs shared some local knowledge of the slopes with Shiffrin.

"Super friendly family and nice place to spend the holidays," Day said. "So it was a multi-purpose rest and training project."

Briefs Jan. 12: AHS skiing starts season; hockey falls to Fort Collins

ASPEN HIGH SCHOOL SKI TEAMS OPEN SEASON OVER THE WEEKEND

The Aspen High School alpine ski team opened its season Friday at Aspen Highlands, with the boys winning and the girls finishing as team runner-up.

Battle Mountain's Will Bettenhausen, a freshman, won the boys' giant slalom with a two-run time of 1 minute, 23.17 seconds. Aspen freshman Jake Morgan was second in 1:23.31 and AHS senior Trey Thorpe was fourth in 1:24.73.

The Aspen boys finished with 170 points to hold off second-placed Battle Mountain and Vail Mountain School, which tied with 166 points.

Aspen's Noah Forman (seventh), Charlie Olsen (eighth) and James Kelly (10th) all had top-10 finishes for the AHS boys, as well.

Battle Mountain won the girls race with 173 points, Aspen coming in second with 168 points and VMS third with 155 points.

Husky senior Gretchen Pavelich won the girls' GS with a two-run time of 1:25.95. Aspen's Levyn Thomas, a senior, was second in 1:27.20. Summer McSwain (fourth) and Edie Sherlock (ninth) also had top-10 finishes for the AHS girls.

The AHS Nordic team opened its season on Saturday with a 5-kilometer classic race at Spring Gulch. Colorado Rocky Mountain School's Kate Oldham, an Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athlete, won the girls' race in 21:23.8. Aspen High's top finisher was Jordan Miner, who finished sixth in 23:04.7. Aspen's Elizabeth Barsness was 10th in 23:25.7.

In the boys' race, Vail Mountain School's Cameron Wolfe was first with a time of 17:35.1 in a sprint finish. Aspen's Everett Olson was second in 17:36.7. Aspen's Colt Whitley was third in 18:17.8 and Noah Wheeless fifth in 18:54.5.

ASPEN HOCKEY FALLS LATE TO NO. 6 FORT COLLINS

The Aspen High School hockey team hosted No. 6 Fort Collins on Saturday, losing 4-3 at Lewis Ice Arena.

The Skiers trailed 1-0 after a period, but back-to-back goals by Jack Pevny and Dominic Lanese in the second period gave AHS the 2-1 lead. The Lambkins got the equalizer later in the period.

Early in the third period, Lanese gave AHS a 3-2 lead. However, Fort Collins answered with back-to-back goals late in the period to avoid the upset.

The loss ended a four-game win streak for the Skiers. Aspen, now 5-4-2, will next host Resurrection Christian on Saturday at the Aspen Ice Garden.

ASPEN SWIMMERS FOURTH IN GRAND JUNCTION

The Aspen High School girls swim team opened 2019 with a meet Saturday in Grand Junction, taking fourth. Glenwood Springs won with 606 points, followed by Grand Junction (576), Fruita Monument (453) and Aspen (340).

The Skiers took wins in four different events. Senior Davy Brown won both the 50 free and 100 back, while sophomore Emily Kinney won the 100 breast. AHS also had a win in the 200-medley relay.

BASALT BASKETBALL SWEPT BY DELTA

The Basalt High School boys basketball team lost a 62-28 home game to Delta on Saturday afternoon. It was the third straight loss for the Longhorns, who fell to 2-8 on the season.

The Basalt girls basketball team also hosted Delta on Saturday, losing 56-15. The loss dropped BHS to 1-9 overall.

Both Basalt teams next play at Vail Christian on Tuesday.

HAILEY SWIRBUL MAKES WORLD CUP DEBUT

Basalt High School graduate and Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club product Hailey Swirbul made her World Cup debut on Saturday in Dresden, Germany. The cross-country skier took 41st in the women's sprint, a race won by Sweden's Stina Nilsson. Swirbul's American teammate, Sophie Caldwell, was fifth.

This is Swirbul's first season on the U.S. Ski Team. She is expected to compete later this month at the U23 World Championships in Lahti, Finland.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Briefs Jan. 11: Aspen High hockey, boys basketball win big on Friday

The Aspen High School hockey team put together one of its more impressive wins of the season on Friday night, winning 5-0 over visiting Glenwood Springs at Lewis Ice Arena.

The Skiers scored twice in the first period, a goal each coming from Henry Morrison and Connor Chesner, both power play goals. Jack Pevny tacked on an even-strength goal late in the second period to make it 3-0 and then added another early in the third period, this one short-handed, to make it 4-0. Dominic Lanese scored the final goal barely a minute later.

Logan Soderberg had 27 saves in net. It was Aspen's second shutout win of the season, the other coming in its Dec. 21 win over Steamboat Springs, 4-0.

The win is the fourth straight for the Skiers, who are now 5-3-2 overall. They have beaten both Steamboat and Glenwood twice over this stretch. AHS played Glenwood as recently as Jan. 4, narrowly winning that one, 3-2.

Glenwood, playing varsity hockey for the first time this season, fell to 3-6 overall.

Next up, the Skiers will host No. 6 Fort Collins (6-3-2) at 4 p.m. Saturday at Lewis Ice Arena. The Lambkins beat Glenwood 11-2 on Dec. 7 in their second game of the season. On Friday night, Fort Collins knocked off No. 3 Cherry Creek, 5-3. The Bruins had led 3-0 after a period before letting the game slip away.

Aspen boys basketball rolls over Cedaredge for first win of 2019

The Aspen High School boys basketball team returned to the court following the holiday break by rolling over host Cedaredge on Friday night, winning 57-40 in a non-league game.

The Bruins led 11-7 after a quarter before the Skiers took control. Aspen scored 16 points in the second quarter to lead 23-18 at halftime, and scored 20 more in the third quarter to pull ahead by 43-29 after three quarters.

Jonathan Woodrow led AHS with 15 points, while Noah Hollander had 11.

Aspen, now 3-5 overall, will next travel to Vail Mountain on Tuesday before hosting Gunnison on Friday.

Aspen girls basketball can't keep up with Bruins

The Aspen High School girls basketball team lost Friday at Cedaredge, falling 64-12 in a non-league game. The Bruins, now 6-2 overall, led 22-3 after a quarter and 43-4 at halftime. Cedaredge was receiving the most votes to be ranked among teams not in the top-10 in this week's CHSAANow.com poll.

The Skiers fell to 2-5 with the loss. The AHS girls also are scheduled to play at Vail Mountain on Tuesday before hosting Gunnison on Friday.

Basalt wrestling holds off Battle Mountain on Thursday

Thursday in Edwards, the Basalt High School wrestling team held on for a 31-30 win over Battle Mountain. Four different Longhorns earned wins (not including forfeits): Walker Lassiter at 120 pounds (fall 3:38), Zach Pagan at 132 pounds (fall 1:28), Jose Castorena at 182 pounds (15-5 MD) and Ernesto Lopez at heavyweight (7-0 decision).

The Longhorns are next scheduled to compete Saturday at Eagle Valley before a triangular with Summit and Eagle on Thursday.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Stefan Luitz stripped of Beaver Creek Birds of Prey win for oxygen tank use

OBERHOFEN, Switzerland — The International Ski Federation has disqualified Stefan Luitz from his first World Cup win for inhaling from an oxygen tank between giant slalom runs.

The federation says the German racer will lose his prize money of 45,000 Swiss francs ($46,000) and 100 World Cup points for the Dec. 2 victory in Beaver Creek. Luitz will not be banned.

Racing at an altitude of 10,340 feet (3,152 meters), Luitz used the oxygen before retaining his first-run lead over Marcel Hirscher. The Austrian great will be awarded the win.

The International Ski Federation prohibits using supplemental oxygen even though the World Anti-Doping Agency does not.

Skiing’s governing body says its hearing panel’s decision is “not a sanction, but a consequence of the rule violation.”

Luitz and Germany’s ski federation can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Ski team rookie Hailey Swirbul heads to Germany for her first World Cup start

Before the season started, Hailey Swirbul hoped her journey would go well enough that she could make her first World Cup start at the finals in Quebec. Well, that isn't going to be the case, as more than two months before the Canadian finale the first-year U.S. Ski Team athlete will make her debut on the sport's biggest stage this weekend in Dresden, Germany.

"I know I've got loftier goals, and this is going to be the next step to get there," Swirbul said earlier this season of getting her first World Cup start.

A 2016 Basalt High School graduate and longtime Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athlete, Swirbul will become one of two athletes from the Roaring Fork Valley currently competing on the World Cup in cross-country skiing, the other being Aspen native and three-time Olympian Simi Hamilton. Swirbul's brother is pro cyclist Keegan Swirbul.

Hailey Swirbul, now 20, was nominated for the national team back in the spring after what was a historic season. In its history, the U.S. has only won five medals from world juniors, and all of these have come in the past two winters. Of those five, Swirbul has been directly involved with three of them, making her the most decorated junior cross-country skier in American history.

Her success led to her nomination to the U.S. team, which includes only seven other women. Four, including Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins, make up the A team, while Swirbul is among the four on the D team.

"This past season was a breakthrough for me, and it's been a really natural transition," Swirbul said of being on the U.S. Ski Team. "I've grown up with some of the ladies on the D team and I'm on a team in Alaska with some of the ladies on the A team, so it's been really comfortable for me to get to know them. But also really important to be able to learn from those older girls."

Swirbul's season started in early December in West Yellowstone, where she had a couple of top-10 finishes in the annual U.S. Super Tour races. She then had two more top-10 finishes, including a fourth-place finish in a 10-kilometer classic race, at a Nor-Am Cup event in British Columbia.

After taking second in a smaller FIS race in Alaska — where she competes for the club team at Alaska Pacific University — she headed to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont this past week for the U.S. National Championships.

She had a strong showing at nationals, taking fourth in a 20k race. She also had a sixth-place finish in a classic sprint.

"Skiing out of a tiring but rewarding week at US Nationals," Swirbul recently posted on her Instagram account. "Off to Dresden to try my hand at the big leagues!!"

The Dresden World Cup races this weekend include an individual sprint on Saturday and a team sprint on Sunday. Both the men and women are competing, with Hamilton expected to be among the athletes, as well.

"I've got a couple of years to develop still, before I'll be expected to be winning World Cups, which would be amazing," Swirbul had said, noting that many endurance athletes really don't peak until later in their 20s. "It's definitely been a change in training (this season). It's much higher quality training and more intensity. I think it will really benefit my fitness this year and I think I've improved quite a bit, so I hope I can stay on an upward track this season."

Along with any more surprising World Cup starts, Swirbul's other big event this season is expected to be the U23 World Championships, held Jan. 20-26 in Lahti, Finland. Bigger picture, she said her long-term aim is certainly on the 2022 Winter Olympics in China.

She believes making the next Olympics is within her wheelhouse, and getting to occasionally train and compete alongside athletes like Diggins has changed her outlook. Diggins, alongside teammate Kikkan Randall, won the country's first Olympic gold in cross-country skiing last winter in South Korea.

"She's a normal girl, which is really awesome to see. She is not doing anything crazy," Swirbul said of Diggins. "They really paved the way for athletes like myself, especially females, and I'm so lucky to have them to look up to and ski with."

acolbert@aspentimes.com

AVSC’s Clubhouse Chronicles: The need for speed in ski racing

Next week, Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club will host the 32nd annual Wilder Dwight Classic Speed Series. We are thrilled to welcome hundreds of athletes to race super-G and downhill on the Stapleton Training Center on Aspen Highlands in what is the nation's largest speed series.

"Speed" refers to super-G and downhill, the fastest of the alpine ski racing disciplines. While there are more than 30 homologated (certified) downhill trails in the country, very few mountains and clubs host speed events. They take a great deal of preparation, both in terms of safety protocol and snow conditions. It takes an average of 200 man hours to set up safety nets on our race venue and another 50 or so hours in a snowcat to prepare the terrain.

This season, there are six downhill race series in the United States, including the Beaver Creek World Cup. Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club is hosting two of them; one next week and one in April. While both downhill series this year will be held at Aspen Highlands (on Goldenhorn/Thunderbowl), we are lucky to have downhill trails on two other mountains in Aspen: Racer's Edge on Buttermilk and Ruthie's Run on Aspen. This is unique; only two other places in the country have more than one homologated downhill trail: Beaver Creek and Mammoth Mountain in California.

With fewer clubs hosting downhill races, you might wonder why this is something we prioritize at AVSC. It is part of our heritage, both as a town and as a sport. As our head U12 coach, Pat Callahan, explains: "It goes back to the most basic element of ski racing: I'll race you down the mountain."

We believe that, outside of being unbelievably fun for most athletes, skiing speed offers irreplaceable benefits to our athletes' technique and tactics across all disciplines.

Our commitment to the speed disciplines starts early with our athletes; each year (for over 40 years now) during the holidays, AVSC runs a speed camp on Racer's Edge at Buttermilk, where kids as young as 8 learn basic elements of racing speed. We start slow and progress into full-speed, full-length courses where athletes are skiing as fast as they possibly can. During this year's camp, the kids took a collective 2,000-plus runs over four days. They grinned widely in disbelief: "that is the fastest I have ever gone in my entire life!" While it might sound perilous, safety is paramount. We practice a calculated progression in a very controlled environment. On top of that, Racer's Edge is the perfect developmental downhill trail: it has flats, steeps, fall-away turns, jumps, high-speed sections and a compression. Kids can go as fast as they can and still feel comfortable; it is where they can find and learn to handle their max speed comfortably.

Through this process, athletes build confidence and learn how to push boundaries. Beyond the enjoyment, skiing downhill and super-G can improve kids' approach to the "tech" events (slalom and giant slalom). Skiing courses at high speed forces athletes to develop a heightened level of concentration and attention to tactics, which makes it easier to execute with more precision in tech events. It's almost like learning to navigate a race track while driving a school bus, and then jumping in a race car.

Our dedication to downhill has paid off: AVSC's four most recent alumni to qualify for the U.S. Ski Team (Wiley Maple, Alice McKennis, Galena Wardle, Katie Ryan) are or were speed skiers. Wiley and Alice represented the United States at last year's Olympic Games, where Alice was fifth in the women's downhill.

While we are proud of the training opportunities we're providing AVSC athletes, we're also proud of the race opportunities that we're offering to our region. Many decorated World Cup athletes grew up traveling to Aspen to race in the Wilder Dwight Classic; Lindsey Vonn won it early in her career.

None of these opportunities would come to fruition without the support of Aspen Skiing Co., specifically Travis Benson (Buttermilk mountain manager) and Kevin Hagerty (Aspen Highlands mountain manager). Furthermore, thank you to the AVSC donors who make the Stapleton Training Center the world-class venue that it is, to Rocky Mountain Division for awarding us the opportunity to host these races year after year, and of course to our staff at AVSC for working tirelessly to produce safe, fun and challenging races. If you have some time next week, come check out the races!

Clubhouse Chronicles is a twice-a-month, behind-the-scenes column written by the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. It runs in the Friday Outdoors section.