Aspen hosts alpine, nordic prep races
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Aspen High launched a ski team eight years ago and for the last four years, the Skier girls ” based on combined alpine and nordic results ” have captured state championships.
Meanwhile, the AHS boys won two of the last four, including a narrow runner-up finish last season to Summit High School. But Aspen High has never hosted a high school alpine race before.
That changes today. This morning at Aspen Highlands, the Skiers are hosting their first high school alpine race on Thunderbowl, in conjunction with a high school nordic skate race on Saturday behind the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club clubhouse.
Fourteen high school teams from around the state, and 271 student-athletes on the alpine side alone, will be slicing up the slalom course beginning at 9:30 a.m. today. A similar number will line up for a wild mass-start in the nordic events on Saturday, starting at 10:30 a.m.
“It’s a biggie, as well as the first one ever,” said Mike Flynn, coordinator of the Aspen High ski teams, which race under the combined AHS-AVSC banner.
It’s also a tryout for Aspen as a host, Flynn explained. Aspen is scheduled to host the Colorado State Skiing Championships next season, but AHS first must demonstrate the ability to pull off such an event.
“If we want to have states here next year, we have to prove that we can put on a good race,” said Flynn.
Fortunately, the tried-and-tested race crew at Highlands, led by Scott Nichols, have a handle on things. “They’ve been absolutely incredible and helpful and very professional,” Flynn said. “It’s one less thing that we have to worry about.”
The first high school alpine race of the season, a giant slalom Dec. 18 at Copper Mountain, saw both the AHS boys and girls ski to third-place finishes in 14-team fields. And four of the top five boys DNF’d, and four freshmen girls made their high school debuts with top-20 finishes.
“We don’t know how good our teams are yet, but my first impression is that we look pretty good,” said Flynn.
The reigning high school state slalom champion, AHS senior Packy Westfeldt, will not be racing today, Flynn said. Westfeldt, Lange Adams and Gillian Hearn, Aspen’s top alpine girl, will be competing elsewhere with AVSC.
Similarly, on the nordic side, three of Aspen’s top guns will be absent ” racing instead in Rumford, Maine, at a national event. Simi Hamilton, the defending state champ in both nordic skate and classic, Brandon Cooper, and Aimee Schwartz, Aspen’s top nordic girl, are among the missing.
But with the largest numbers on the ski team in school history, with about 45 alpine and nordic student-athletes, there are no shortage of bodies, Flynn said.
“We’re trying to get as many people qualified for the state championship as we can,” said Flynn. “That’s what our real goal is in regular-season races like these ones.
“And the competition looks even better this year than ever before,” continued Flynn, the coordinator of the AHS ski teams since the founding eight years ago. “It looks like there’s four or five schools that have a shot at it. There’s a big spike in high school skiing right now, and the more you have, the better the quality. So it’s going to be an interesting year.
“I think this will be our toughest one.”
Let’s make some skiing predictions. I made my X Games snowboarding predictions a day earlier and remain only mildly lukewarm in terms of confidence, but maybe I’ll feel better about the skiers.