Vermont’s Ben Ritchie tames tricky course to win the men’s slalom at U.S. nationals
Vermont’s Ben Ritchie was among the few to navigate a tricky course in a warm beginning to the U.S. Alpine Championships on Monday, winning the men’s slalom at Aspen Highlands.
The sunny, spring conditions forced race organizers to move up the start to 7:30 a.m. Only 23 racers officially finished, with 33 recording DNFs — did not finish — on the first run alone. Among those were notable names such as Vail’s River Radamus and Steamboat’s Jett Seymour.
Still, Ritchie chimed in that the course held up better than expected. For him, at least.
“This morning we all thought it was going to be one of the worst races of the year here,” Ritchie said. “But the snow is way better than I would ever expect it would have been, even with the warm weather. So hopefully it will stay like that through the week.”
Ritchie posted a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 43.11 seconds, a 0.84 advantage over runner-up Erik Arvidsson (1:43.95), a native Californian and Middlebury College product.
Rounding out the podium on Monday was Tahoe’s Garret Driller, a former Montana State University skier, in 1:44.46, placing him 1.35 seconds back of Ritchie. Norway’s Wilhelm Normannseth, a University of Utah athlete, was just off the podium in fourth.
Times were significantly quicker on the second run, with Ritchie trimming his first-run time of 54.26 seconds down to 48.85 on his second run to go from fourth to first. First-run leader Luke Winters of Oregon did not finish his second run, nor did Greece’s AJ Ginnis, who was third after a run. Arvidsson had been second at the halfway point.
A handful of athletes with local ties were caught up in the DNF epidemic, including U.S. ski team members Bridger Gile and Cooper Cornelius.
Monday’s slalom was the first day of nearly two weeks of racing at the national championships, which is being held slightly later in the spring season than normal. The event came together rather quickly and replaced the previously planned NorAm Cup Finals at Highlands, which were canceled.
In a way, it’s an apt finish to a difficult season overshadowed by the pandemic.
“It’s definitely been a really different season than I would have ever expected,” Ritchie said. “It’s had its weird moments with COVID and ups and downs with results, but I think through out the whole year I made a really solid, steady increase in my racing performance and skiing, which eventually turned out to have some good results.”
Ritchie, a U.S. B team member, has a handful of World Cup starts under his belt going back to 2019, but with little substantial success outside of a strong 13th-place finish in slalom at the World Championships earlier this February in Italy.
He also won the men’s slalom at the Junior World Championships on March 5 in Bulgaria, a notable accomplishment for the 20-year-old Green Mountain Valley School product who is now a national champion.
“I’m happy with the progress I made this year,” Ritchie said. “It’s nice to finish with a nationals win. I’ve never won before and I’m excited for what next year holds.”
U.S. nationals continue Tuesday with the men’s giant slalom at Aspen Highlands. Officially speaking, spectators are not permitted at the venue due to COVID-19 safety protocols. Highlands closed for the public ski season on Sunday.
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