Two World Cup mainstays said goodbye — including one of the Aspen area’s own — and a rare tie occurred atop another leaderboard on Saturday in what was downhill day at the U.S. Alpine Championships at Aspen Highlands.
Oregon’s Laurenne Ross and New Castle’s Alice McKennis Duran both announced their retirement from the U.S. ski team in recent days and celebrated together during Saturday’s downhill races. McKennis Duran is a local namesake who grew up skiing at Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs and formerly trained with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club.
The women combined for 274 World Cup starts over careers that spanned more than a decade each and included a pair of Olympic appearances for both.
“It feels surreal,” Ross said. “Having Alice do her last race, and just being in the start with her and knowing it was the last time we got to do that together was really emotional and kind of hard to get it together for the race. But I just wanted to have fun.”
While McKennis Duran, who splits her time between homes in Minturn and Moab, used Saturday’s downhill as more of a ceremonial race, with her husband, Pat Duran, following behind with the camera, Ross entered the starting gate looking to compete, despite her desire to just “have fun.”
The 32-year-old actually won the women’s downhill on Saturday — which had a rare two-run format — in a combined 2 minutes, 18.49 seconds, holding off California’s AJ Hurt (0.45 back) and Utah’s Lauren Macuga (0.89 back) for the national championship.
“I’m competitive as hell, so I knew I was going to try and go fast so I didn’t really have to worry about that,” Ross said. “I’m really happy … happy to be here with all my friends and of course it’s really wonderful to win my last actual race.”
Ross plans to take her victory lap in Tuesday’s super-G national championship race. The giant slalom and slalom national championship races are Thursday and Friday at Highlands.
Hurt, 20, and Macuga, 18, both grew up watching Ross compete and the native of Bend was thrilled to share her final podium with her young U.S. teammates.
“It’s really cool to see their talent … and to see their passion and drive,” Ross said. “Also, just their compassion for others is really refreshing. I remember being their age and being around the older girls and just being a little bit scared of people, and not really having that camaraderie as much, but it’s nice to get to know them and to see them start to blossom in their careers. It’s exciting.”
In the men’s downhill on Saturday, U.S. mainstays Tommy Biesemeyer and Jared Goldberg shared the national championship in a rare tie, as both finished with a two-run combined time of 2:13.29. Biesemeyer just edged Goldberg on the first run, but Goldberg got him back just as equally in the second run.
Maine’s Sam Morse finished third on Saturday, 0.29 back of the winners. Minnesota’s Isaiah Nelson was fourth, Aspen’s own Tristan Lane was fifth and another Aspenite in Bridger Gile came in seventh.
While Goldberg, 29, remains active as a ski racer, Biesemeyer, 32, announced back in October he was stepping away from competition and effectively came out of retirement to race at nationals. He also competed in a series of FIS races at Whiteface Mountain in New York both in February and March, winning a few of the races.
Racing continues Sunday with a FIS downhill for both men and women, while Monday is an off day before Tuesday’s national championship super-G and combined races for the women.
“It’s been really fun to come here and race on a pretty chill venue, and I’ve been wanting to have nationals here for years,” Goldberg said. “It’s just such a fun venue, and it’s easy for them to set up and for us you can kind of relax and have fun with it, and this time of year that’s what we need after a long World Cup season.”