At 118 mph, Hamilton sets pace |

At 118 mph, Hamilton sets pace

A serious crash yesterday at Snowmass, midway through day two of the U.S. Speed Skiing National Championships, halted racing temporarily as officials investigated the accident.

Aspen resident Charlie Tarver, 39, sustained a serious head injury in a fall from his mountain bike just after 1 p.m. Tuesday. Tarver was clocked at 96 mph on the Slot course moments before the crash.

Citing safety concerns following the crash, officials barred cyclists from racing on the course.

Racing resumed with slackened spirits just after 2:30 p.m. for the second and final run of the two-day national championship.

After topping out at 115 mph in the first run Tuesday morning, officials pushed the start about 100-yards further up the hill for the second run.

Aspen’s Jeff Hamilton, the first man to break the 150 mph mark on skis and the leader after the first run, emerged as the undisputed U.S. National Champion by posting a 118.82 mph top speed in the second run.

For Hamilton, who owns four world titles, the victory marked his eighth U.S. National Championship.

Denver’s Mark Rupprecht was second (116.63 mph), followed by Aspen resident John “Mad Cow” Hembel (116.44 mph) in third in the field of 62 skiers.

In the field of six starters on the women’s side, American Carolyn Curl set a blazing pace with a speed of 116.88 mph, good enough for second place overall. France’s Karine Dubochet was second (115.18 mph), followed by Tracie Sachs of the U.S. in third (113.16 mph).

About 75 of the top speed skiing (and snowboarding and monoskiing) athletes in the world competed in Part I of the four-day event. The high-speed action continues today and Thursday with the first stop of the FIS World Cup speed skiing tour, also on the Slot course at Snowmass. The same athletes are expected to compete.

“It was a perfect race, but obviously it’s all tempered by Charlie’s fall. We all hope he’s OK,” said Hamilton, who is serving as race director for the four-day, two-part event. “But the track’s great, getting more and more smooth so we can catch less air and hopefully go faster.”

Hembel was pleased with his podium finish.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve been on the podium, so I’m happy,” he said. “There’s some awesome Europeans here, so I’m surprised three Americans are on top.”

As for Hamilton’s dominance, Hembel attributed it to his friend’s experience and flexibility.

“Flexibility is the key I think,” he said. “There’s a lot of rollers in the course and the ability to absorb those rollers is where Hamilton excels. He can keep a flat ski and still keep it down and absorb that stuff, while keeping his upper-body pretty still, and that makes a difference.”

Wearing aerodynamic shoulder-length helmets, 240 cm planks specially designed for speed skiing, and skin-tight latex suits and gloves complete with farings behind their boots to improve air flow, racers shoved off from the top of the course holding tight tucks on the 1,100-veritical-foot descent of the 25-degree slope.

In speed skiing, racers pass by two timing beams located on either end of a 100-meter speed trap at the bottom of the course to determine their average top speed.

Yesterday’s weather, no wind and perfect visibility, provided prime racing conditions. However, the course wasn’t quite as perfect. The straight-shot course lined with tiny flags harbored at least four tricky rolling sections where racers were getting “light” on their skis or catching a bit of air.

“It’s bumpy down at the bottom,” said Aspen’s Hembel. “It’s a skier’s course, and the ones who can ski it are going to do well and the ones who can’t may be in trouble.

“There’s four little airs,” Hembel continued, “and it’s throwing me back. I’m wheeling in on my tails. You gotta press it to stay forward.”

The course caused problems for American racer E.J. Muzik. Plummeting into the finish area at a 98 mph clip, Muzik failed to turn left into the extended run-out area, and instead veered toward the crowd. Unable to stop, Muzik fell onto his right side then crashed through a camera tripod and three safety fences, coming to rest on a pad that shielded the announcers’ picnic table.

Muzik was OK, but 8-year-old Brenan Abromowitz got caught in the fray. Brenan and twin brother Baron, who came to Aspen with their dad Greg from southern California, were standing at the fence when Muzik crashed. Baron escaped injury, but Brennan sustained a cut on his forehead. According to a Snowmass Patroller, Brennan required a few stitches, but was otherwise OK.

Earlier, Baron and Brenan posted speeds of 75 and 71 mph, respectively, in their first-ever speed race.

Other notable performances included Frenchmen Xavier Cousseau’s 102 mph run on a 230 cm monoski, and Canadian Barney Mouat’s 101 mph run on a pair of 240 cm skis mounted with telemark bindings. Mouat’s quest for the 107 mph telemark speed record will continue today and Thursday on the same borrowed equipment he used yesterday.

“I guess the world record is the goal,” Mouat said, “but it’s kind of a backwards goal. I came here not knowing if I’d be able to compete, but Jeff [Hamilton] invited me to join. I’ll let it rip again tomorrow.”

In today and Thursday’s FIS World Cup event, officials plans to stage two runs each day, at about 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day. Today’s racing will start lower on the hill, and with each run, the start will be pushed farther and farther up the hill. And depending on weather and course conditions, the course record, 123 mph, could fall.

“We’ll be hitting 120 mph for sure,” said Hamilton. “It’s only going to get faster. Just how fast? We’ll have to see.”

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