AVSC Nordic continues to grow in size, stature | AspenTimes.com

AVSC Nordic continues to grow in size, stature

Graham Houtsma of the AVSC qualifies for the junior nationals in California next month.
Team AVSC photo |

When Maria Stuber, AVSC’s Nordic program director, mentioned to coaches last year “that we had eight kids with their eyes set on junior nationals, I kind of got laughed at.”

While the program has always fielded national contenders, AVSC’s Nordic team hasn’t had strength in numbers for some years.

Until this season, that is.

Six AVSC skiers have qualified for the 2015 Cross Country Junior Nationals, March 8-14, in Truckee, California.

The AVSC team includes: U18’s Hailey Swirbul, Nick Sweeney and Graham Houtsma and U16s Jozie Wille, Chelsea Moore and Jack Sweeney.

“It makes us one of the biggest clubs represented at junior nationals,” Stuber said.

Two races on home snow last weekend helped determine the final qualifiers for the junior nationals.

A larger than expected field of 270 competitors turned out for the weekend series, one classic and one skate race, that served as bookends to the legacy Aspen/Snowmass event, the Owl Creek Chase.

“On Saturday, our kids did amazing,” Stuber said. “No one had a bad race, it was either a normal or a standout race,” she said.

Noteworthy among U14 and under participant’s in the Saturday 3K classic event was Ava McDonough, who place third.

Stuber said it was cool to see this weekend how the entire team, as well as AHS students and families, rallied behind the skiers who were close to being “on the bubble” for qualifying to nationals.

Many of those in attendance agreed that the home races hosted this year by AVSC had a special energy.

Sunday’s skate race also featured some gritty performances by U14 skiers, including a bronze medal in the 3K for Colt Whitley.

The road to success for the Nordic team started last summer when Stuber and coaches implemented a significantly stepped-up dryland training program that includes roller skiing, which best replicates these skiing movements.

Next, the Nords head to Summit County for the state championships this week. About 20 skiers have qualified this year from AVSC.

Adaptive nationals at Buttermilk

During a series of IPC adaptive alpine races in December at Aspen Highlands, Andrew Kurka was the event’s chief announcer, sidelined by a broken femur sustained during an early season training accident.

On Friday, Kurka, an AVSC athlete who hails from Alaska, stood on top of the podium at Buttermilk/Tiehack as the men’s national champion for downhill sitting.

He was fast on the Racers Edge course in a time of 1:06.54. Fellow American Tyler Walker went silver, with 1:08.37.

Corey Peters of New Zealand finished third.

“It was a true national championships race,” said Chief of Race Walt Evans. “These guys fought it right to the finish.”

Off skis for more than two months, Kurka said the win Friday confirmed he is in competitive shape.

“It lets me know I haven’t lost anything. I hope to continue my momentum through to the World Championships,” next month in Panorama, British Columbia, he said.

Kurka was one of three AVSC athletes to earn national titles Friday.

Kevin Burton (with guide Chris Tatsuno) won for visually impaired. Laurie Stephens was gold medalist in women’s sitting.

Behind Burton and Tatsuno, who skied to 1:21.23, were Patrick Jensen and guide Kirsty O’Sullivan. They finished the nearly mile-long course with a time of 1:26.25.

Stephens, who started with Challenge Aspen and moved to AVSC four years ago with national team coach Kevin Jardine, is the most decorated athlete of her time, with 14 World Cup globes in all disciplines, from downhill to slalom. Last year she added two bronze medals from the 2014 Sochi Paralympics to her collection.

“It’s always nice to race at home,” she said.

On her 19th birthday, Stephanie Jallen earned a gold medal in women’s standing, skiing to 1:15.98.

AVSC’s Melanie Schwartz was silver medalist and Katrina Schaber won bronze.

In men’s downhill standing, it was Adam Walsh of New Zealand taking the win in 1:09.04 followed by Americans James Stanton and Thomas Walsh, a teenager from Vail.

Saturday’s race was a super combined, one run of super-G, paired with a run of slalom. Winners who took home national titles included Burton/Tatsuno, Walsh, Kurka, Schwartz and Stephens.

The weekend finished with a super-G, where national titles were awarded to AVSC’s Stephens and Burton/Tatsuno.

Freeskiing and riding

Slopestyle, the freeskiing competition that incorporates rails and jumps and plenty of big air, reigned supreme Saturday at Snowmass, under beautiful blue skies. Official results were being sorted out and will be printed in next week’s edition of “AVSC This Week.”

Sunday on Aspen Mountain, the soft snow turned solid, which made the inter-club Devo 2 event on Norway, even more interesting for competitors.

Each Devo 2 athlete was paired with an AVSC Team/All Star mentor.

The score from each pairing was combined, with the top three results awarded a Paradise cookie medal.

For girls/women, it was Lexi Cordts-Pearce and Sonya Padre in first, Chloe Ferraro and Lil Gillis in second and Reese Chapdelaine and Maxine Mellin in third.

Among the men, first place was mentor Brooks Gorsuch and a visiting French skier named Theodore; second place to Judd Gurtman and Logan Brown and third, Sky Sosna and Conner Laughren.

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