Aspen High skiers head to Purgatory hoping to defend state championships
When you are the defending state champion in skiing — and your mascot happens to be the Skiers — then there will certainly be high expectations that have to be managed.
“We absolutely are feeling that pressure of being the defending champs. We’ve got big competition this year,” said Aspen High School alpine ski coach Jennifer Morandi-Benson. “It’s going to be really close. It’s anyone’s game at states, so that makes it exciting.”
The AHS ski team will compete Thursday and Friday at the 2019 state skiing championships, hosted by Durango High School at Purgatory Resort and the Durango Nordic Center.
The Skiers won both the boys and girls state titles last winter at Ski Cooper near Leadville, the eighth championship in skiing for each gender in school history. Prior to last February, the girls had last won a state title in 2016 and the boys in 2014.
Winning a state championship requires a strong all-around performance in all four events, which includes a slalom and giant slalom on the alpine side and both a classic and skate race on the Nordic side.
“It really comes down to who is the most balanced overall team,” Morandi-Benson said. “We have a big team, obviously, but we are also up against some big teams.”
The Skiers had some impressive individual results en route to the state titles last winter. Chelsea Moore won the girls’ classic race and finished third in skate; Devan McSwain and Levyn Thomas finished 2-3 in the girls’ GS, with McSwain also finishing third in slalom; Everett Olson and Jacob Barsness went 2-3 in the boys’ classic race, and Olson again finished second in the boys’ skate race; Noah Forman and Reed Beidleman went 3-4 in the boys’ slalom, and Heath Colon was fourth in the boys’ GS.
Many of these same athletes are back this year, although with some exceptions, like Moore, who is a freshman on the Dartmouth cross-country ski team. Her father, Travis Moore, is the AHS Nordic coach.
“We definitely have depth. We’ve been working on consistency. Finishing is everything,” Morandi-Benson said of the alpine athletes. “Just trying to seed, to put the kids in a start order, has been so challenging. Yes, we have our top girls and our top boys, but we are so deep it’s hard to put certain kids ahead of other kids because there is so much depth there.”
For Morandi-Benson, who took over the alpine program in 2016, this year’s senior class is an especially meaningful one.
“I’m crushed. We have 21 seniors, and I started when they started. I’ve gone an entire cycle with them,” she said, making sure to credit assistant coaches Brad Randall and Jared Thompson. “Tackling a team of 65 athletes and the logistical challenge that goes with that, we got through it and we had a successful season overall. We are super proud of the kids. We’ve traveled with almost a full squad for every race, which is insane.”
SHERLOCK IS SKIMEISTER
Entering the competition, the Skiers have already locked up one major title, as sophomore Edie Sherlock is the female skimeister for the season. Awarded to the top boy and girl who did the best in both alpine and Nordic competitions, the recognition isn’t handed out through CHSAA but through the Colorado High School Ski League.
As far as it is known, Sherlock is the first female skimeister in AHS history. The only other skimeister in school history is Henry Barth, who won it only a year ago. Barth was runner-up to Battle Mountain’s Max Timm this winter.
“An obvious challenge and an incredible feat by these athletes, because they have to split their time between both teams,” Morandi-Benson said of being a skimeister.
The results from the state meet don’t count toward the season-long skimeister award.
Because Purgatory recieved about 40 inches of snow this past week, the alpine events have tentatively been condensed to one run each on Thursday. Racing is scheduled to get underway at 9 a.m. with the only run of the girls’ slalom. The boys’ only run will follow. The GS will get underway at 12:15 p.m.
The Nordic events remain unchanged, with the boys’ skate race beginning at 3 p.m. and the girls’ race at 4 p.m. on Thursday.
The girls’ classic race, a mass start, is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Friday with the boys to follow at 3. A post-competition dinner and awards banquet is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Fort Lewis College on Friday.
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Those opting for the spring, like Aspen and Basalt, will begin football practice Feb. 25 and start playing games March 11.