U.S. Alpine Championships start Monday at a spectator-free Aspen Highlands
With Aspen Highlands closing for the season Sunday — again sans the usual party — opening day for the U.S. Alpine National Championships is knocking on the door. The popular locals’ hill is set to host some of the country’s top ski racers the next two weeks in a low-key end to the competitive season.
“A lot of people are kind of running on fumes, but we are all psyched to see high-level racing,” said Johno McBride, the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club’s alpine director and a longtime national team coach. “It’s also important for us to showcase the venue. That speaks volumes. It’s a great venue.”
The Stapleton Training Center at Highlands, which is operated by AVSC, will provide the main tracks for the skiers at U.S. nationals. The local club is in charge of on-hill maintenance and course setup and a small handful of its more advanced athletes will even get the opportunity to compete.
“We are doing everything on the ground,” McBride said. “We are building starts and setting up all the B-net and working with the cat drivers to build the terrain. We are going to be the guys throwing salt. We are going to be the guys maintaining the course.”
This will be the second U.S. national championship this winter, as the 2020 event was pushed back from last spring because of the pandemic to just before the start of this season. Among the national champions from those races at Copper Mountain earlier this winter was former AVSC athlete Alice McKennis Duran; she is out with injury and won’t compete in Aspen.
The national championships feature a smorgasbord of talent, from current World Cup ski racers and possible A team members, to high-level junior racers hoping to make a splash and possibly earn a spot on the U.S. ski team for next season.
Stars like Mikaela Shiffrin and Travis Ganong are not expected to compete, but a few other big names, such as Nina O’Brien, could very well race, according to skiracing.com.
“People take it pretty seriously,” McBride said. “It depends just a lot on the individuals. There are a lot of high-level racers that every time they get in the starting gate, they are racing. I would say for sure for the younger athletes who have qualified to be at the U.S. nationals, they are going to treat it pretty seriously because they are great opportunities for them.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, spectators aren’t allowed at Highlands during the races, which start Monday with the men’s slalom. There is almost daily racing through the April 16 women’s slalom that will close out the competitive ski season.
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