So happy together: Duo leads Aspen in another title hunt

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

They went to kindergarten together.

Not long afterward, they started skiing with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club together, and by the time they graduate high school, they’ll have gone on three-of-four Ex-Ed trips together.

But first, Kathryn Eastley and Maile Wade intend to win a fourth straight state championship together.

The Aspen High School duo, both 17, are the only seniors on the three-time defending state champion AHS girls ski team.

Eastley, an alpine racer, and Wade, a nordic racer, will lead the team, which races under the combined AHS-AVSC flag, at the state championship at Beaver Creek and Vail on Friday and Saturday.

They will be looking to put an exclamation point on an already remarkable high school career.

The two have already had a hand in four of the six state championships in Aspen High history. Three are the skiing titles, in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and the fourth came in October, when the AHS girls cross country team won its first state title.

“To be on that many state championship teams is a lot,” Eastley said. “I think it’s like a record or something.”

Indeed, their success is hard to quantify. Aspen High’s domination of the state skiing championships started when Eastley and Wade were freshmen, in 2000, when the girls and boys teams captured their first crowns. The girls repeated, then three-peated, while the boys bounced back from an off year in 2001 to win again last season.

So while the AHS-AVSC girls go for the four-peat, the boys will be looking to make it three out of four.

“I think we can do it,” said Wade. “I hope we can, anyway. We’ve definitely talked a lot about it and put a lot of emphasis on it because it’s never been done four years in a row.”

“I think the first year that we had a [high school] team was when I was a freshman,” Eastley added. “And not only were they all really talented skiers, we were all friends and we were having fun. But we went out there with a goal and that was to win the state championship, and we’ve just learned we can do it again and again.”

Aspen’s boys and girls teams have qualified 15 racers each for the state championship. (Absent from the girls roster is Jenny Hamilton, an AHS senior who was instrumental in the first two titles. She will not be racing this weekend because she was racing in Sweden; or, as Eastley put it, “she’s skiing above and beyond.”)

The event opens Friday morning with a giant slalom at Beaver Creek starting at 9:30. The girls run first, then the boys. At 4 p.m., the nordic racers take center stage at Cordillera, near Beaver Creek, for a 5K classic race.

Saturday’s schedule is similar: a slalom starting at 9:30 a.m. at Beaver Creek, then a 5K skate race at 4 p.m. at the Vail Nordic Center.

In the state skiing championships, teams may start an unlimited number of racers in each event, provided each racer qualified in regular-season races earlier in the winter. Then each team’s top three finishers in each event score toward the overall team total – including both alpine and nordic events for each boys and girls team – to determine the overall winners.

“The feeling on the team is that we know we can win, but it’s been really, really close this year,” said Eastley. “So we’ve got a little bit more pressure, but we know we can do it.”

Last year, only three girls – Eastley, junior Gillian Hearn and sophomore Bo Jaymes Forster – qualified for the alpine events, meaning each one had to finish for the team to be in contention. Eastley and Hearn both missed gates during runs, but both hiked up to get back in the race, efforts that AHS-AVSC alpine coach Mike Flynn said “saved us.”

“We thought we weren’t going to win it because of that,” Eastley said. “But we did.”

That won’t be an issue this time around. Five girls will start the giant slalom this year: Eastley, Hearn, Forster, sophomore Syd Cantrell and freshman Rachel Schwartz. The same girls, minus Schwartz, will race the slalom on Saturday.

“We won’t be out of it like last year if one of us falls,” said Eastley.

“But it used to be that the Aspen nordic team was so much stronger than anyone else. This year, it’s a little different. It’s exactly like alpine – super close. That’s why it’s iffy and exciting. It’s tighter this year.”

Summit High School’s boys and girls teams look to be the most formidable opponent for Aspen, as Summit was runner-up in girls and boys last year.

“Summit’s alpine girls got them into first place last year,” Wade said of last year’s state championship at Winter Park, “so it was up to us to pull it out.

“But we did,” she said, echoing Eastley.

Six Aspen girls will race both nordic events, including Wade and juniors Aimee Schwartz, Cori Hach, Ashley Morse, Erin Kiernan and Kourtni Keller.

“For the girls to pull it out, it’s the same thing as last year,” said Flynn. “We’ve got to stay close in alpine, then the girls nordic has to win it. We think it’s going to come down to around five points. It’s going to be that close.”

Meanwhile on the boys side, nine AHS-AVSC nordic racers are qualified: sophomore defending individual state champion Simi Hamilton, sophomores Brandon Cooper, Geoff Walker, Tyler Baker, Spencer Adams, Andrew Preusch and Weston Boyles, and juniors John Hatanaka and Will Otte.

The boys alpine team includes eight racers: senior Wheeler Clancy, juniors Patrick “Packy” Westfeldt, Ben Westfeldt, Lange Adams and Blair Pickus, sophomore Matt Fox and freshmen Paul Britvar and Jackson Davis.