Run faster, jump higher: Get your gold pass | AspenTimes.com

Run faster, jump higher: Get your gold pass

AVSC staff report

There was ice on the windshield and frost on the field as dozens of the region's top alpine ski racers assembled Sunday morning outside Aspen Middle School. Some came from as far away as Albuquerque and Park City, but the majority hailed from nearby resort towns.

All arrived with a similar goal: To complete a battery of strength, agility and aerobic tests, and, for the oldest and most accomplished in the group, earn a Colorado Ski Country USA gold pass for the season.

This was the second year in a row Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club hosted the Colorado Ski Country USA All-Stars testing program that's administered by the Rocky Mountain Division of USSA.

The region's top 60 ability-class athletes — 30 each, young men and young women — were invited to this assessment of their lifting, jumping and aerobic skills.

Program administrator Darlene Nolting, of USSA, likes what she sees. Looking up briefly from her clipboard, Nolting, alpine manager for the Rocky Mountain Division, said, "This group is better conditioned than in the past."

Having spent the past two weekends consumed by assessments, Nolting concluded that alpine athletes from the region are "better prepared at a young age."

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AVSC's Julia Mueller-Ristine, 18, is a living testament to that theory.

The 2013 Aspen High School graduate, who hopes to make the U.S. Ski Team, lifted 220 pounds that day, which she said is "more than ever."

Fresh from some solid on-snow training in New Zealand, Mueller-Ristine is temporarily putting aside her long-term plan of studying medicine in order to focus on her more immediate goal. She had plenty of company during the All-Star testing; the male/female ratio was almost dead even, said Ian Dunlop, the development coach for the Rocky/Central region.

Dunlop credits the rise in female participation in part to the "Vonn and Shiffrin effect," with the duo's success inspiring a new generation of competitive young women.

U16 coach Pat Callahan said these assessments offer value on more than one level.

"The big thing is it really gives them a great comparison against other competitors. At this point, they're all so close (in ability) that the person in the best shape has the advantage."

David Stapleton, a member of the U.S. Ski Team during the late 1970s and early 1980s, said the tests back in the day "were not even in the same ballpark."

Weight lifting was considered unnecessary for alpine skiers then.

"We did a lot of running up mountains to build strength. These athletes are stronger, faster and they jump higher," said the native Aspenite, who's been involved with AVSC as a competitor, volunteer and now fund-raiser, for 47 years.