Aspen High takes another state ski title, freshman Kelly wins individual races
Girls set to race Friday at Loveland Valley Ski Area
Freshman Chase Kelly had nothing to do with Aspen High School’s three previous state championships in boys skiing. He had a whole lot to do with the fourth one, won Thursday at Loveland Ski Area.
In an odd year where the Nordic races were held days earlier at an entirely different venue, the AHS boys Alpine team got their turn with the slalom and giant slalom races and turned the head start the Nordic skiers gave them in the team standings into a rout.
After the four races, two Nordic and two Alpine, the Aspen boys finished with 683 points for their fourth straight state championship, while Battle Mountain finished second with 581.5 and Middle Park third with 570.
Kelly won both Alpine races Thursday on challenging courses, giving AHS the boys sweep after senior Taiga Moore won both of the Nordic races on Saturday in Breckenridge.
Summit High School Alpine assistant coaches John McMurtry and Dylan Nicoletti heard the chatter among the 70-plus high school boys skiers, who were getting ready to race on a menacing 62-gate slalom course Thursday at Loveland.
It was a course McMurtry, a former U.S. Alpine ski team coach, said was “like a World Cup” with “really hard turns” where “you don’t feel good going down.”
“It seemed like the attitude up top was, ‘We’re cranking it out,’” Nicoletti said. “You’re not going to like it. It’s not going to feel good. But if you can crank it out back and forth, you have to be ready to fight all the way down.”
On the first slalom course of the afternoon, which McMurtry rated a nine or 10 in toughness on a scale of 10, it was Aspen’s Kelly who put forth the second fastest time of 48.61 seconds. That time — combined with Kelly’s best time of 42.26 on the second, more tame slalom course — earned the freshman the slalom state championship with a total time of 1:30.87.
That title came hours after Kelly raced to the top overall combined time in the giant slalom race at 1:30.87, more than a second quicker than runner-up James Lahrman of Steamboat Springs.
Of the 74 state qualifiers on the start list Thursday, a staggering 24 boys — nearly one in three athletes — did not finish or were disqualified on their runs down that first slalom course. Like so many other skiers Thursday, Kelly was bumped off his line at the same spot where a midcourse flat turned into a final, steep descent.
“Coming over that steeper pitch, there was a hairpin (turn) into a delay(ed turn), and I was just caught a little off guard,” Kelly said. “But I managed to get through it and back online.”
Kelly said he did not put any pressure on himself after heading into the slalom, his preferred event, after winning the giant slalom in the morning. He added that the Aspen team — which had four skiers finish in the top six in slalom and five finish in the top 10 in giant slalom — also benefited from a sound course-reporting system, where teammates report back to other skiers at the top of the course once their run is complete.
Summit’s top finish on the day was 14th place by sophomore Michael Cheek in the slalom. Cheek skied well on the first slalom course, completing it in 11th place in 51.93 seconds before completing the second slalom course in 47.51, good enough for 21st place and an overall slalom time of 1:39.44.
McMurtry said Cheek did well to push himself to the edge but not go over it on that tough, first course, describing it as an exercise in not going over a very fine line and ending up a statistic in the course’s attrition rate.
Cheek knew the course was going to chew up and spit out skiers. After skiing it, he said the course felt “a lot more turny” than when he and others inspected it. That was a result, he said, of course setters spacing the gates much farther across the slope than an ordinary slalom race.
Cheek’s advice to the Summit girls skiers come Friday’s races was “to just keep fighting.”
“Because a lot of people aren’t finishing slalom, if you just finish, you are doing pretty well,” Cheek said. “And with the giant slalom course, it’s about keeping speed on the flat area, because that’s where you lose a lot of time.”
The girls will compete Friday, where Aspen also enters with the head start in the team standings. The Skier girls are looking for a third title in four years.
Aspen Times sports editor Austin Colbert contributed to this report.
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