Aspen High School skiing team heads to Winter Park, hopes for more state success
CHSAA state skiing championships are Thursday and Friday
The Aspen High School ski team is headed back to the CHSAA state championships this week, a place it’s dominated in recent years. However, with a smaller cross-country ski team this winter, the Skiers’ chances of winning the overall titles will be slim, although the coaches still expect strong results from the 19 combined athletes going.
“It comes up quite a bit. Mainly between the athletes. They definitely like to win,” Alpine coach Jared Thompson said of the program’s recent run of state titles. “They like to win as a team, which is the neat part about the high school program, is the team aspect. But with Nordic changing this year, we don’t have a chance to take away the full-on team trophy, unfortunately.”
AHS is sending 16 Alpine athletes — eight boys and eight girls — to Winter Park for the state races on Thursday and Friday. The Nordic team will only have three girls and no boys competing down the road at Snow Mountain Ranch near Granby.
The Nordic program went through some restructuring this season and unfortunately was left with a skeleton crew — they only had one boy race during the regular season — and that will certainly make challenging for an overall title at state difficult considering the final results are a combination of Alpine and Nordic events.
“For various reasons, the club skiers didn’t choose to ski with the high school group this year. I’m hoping that’s not a permanent thing, but I just don’t know,” said longtime AHS Nordic coach Travis Moore. “But we have a great group of skiers, some of which are more veterans — they’ve been doing it for a while. And we have a few first-timers, which it has been really fun to get some kids out on snow who are just psyched to be out there and learning the sport.”
The trio of girls going to state for the Nordic team include senior Emma Borchers — a Basalt High School student — junior Michaela Kenny and freshman Julia Diaz. Kenny is Aspen’s top returning performer from state a year ago, when she finished 18th in skate and 19th in classic.
The AHS girls and boys teams were each state champions — CHSAA doesn’t officially recognize individual state champions per discipline — in both classic and skate last winter.
“They’ve been a really fun group,” Moore said. “They just love being outside and love skiing and love learning and getting better. That’s been cool.”
Photos: AHS Nordic home races on Jan. 8
This is Thompson’s first year as the head coach for the Alpine team after having been an assistant under Jennifer Morandi-Benson the past three seasons. Morandi-Benson recently had a child and stepped away from coaching duties this winter, although Thompson said she hopes to return to coaching in some form after this season.
A native of Bend, Oregon, Thompson has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for two decades now and teaches physical education at Aspen Elementary School, so he’s known most of his Alpine athletes as long as they’ve been on skis.
“I know the kids. I’ve known most of them since they were 5,” Thompson said. “I had them in P.E. when they were in elementary school and I used to coach for the ski club for years, as well. So I’ve been around the game for a while.”
Aspen’s Alpine lineup at state is led on the boys’ side by sophomore Chase Kelly, who had a dazzling state debut last winter as a freshman when he won both the slalom and giant slalom races at Loveland. The AHS boys easily led both the slalom and GS team standings at state last year.
“Chase is back and he is skiing incredibly well,” Thompson said. “We are looking for hopefully another repeat from what he did last year. He’s been skiing really consistent and really fast.”
Aspen’s top female ski racer this year is Cate Simpson, a junior who attends Glenwood Springs High School. As a sophomore at state last year, she finished fourth in slalom and fifth in GS.
The Skiers enter the state championship having won four straight state titles — again, that is combined Alpine and Nordic — on the boys’ side, and three of the past four on the girls’ side, the only shortcoming a strong runner-up finish in 2019.
While continuing that dominance looks doubtful with the lack of Nordic numbers, Thompson still expects the Alpine ski racers to take care of their side of things at Winter Park.
“It’s definitely affected the drive of the Alpine team, being like, ‘Well, we can’t win the whole trophy,’” Thompson said. “I’m like, ‘Well, we can win Alpine.’”
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