Championship season for AVSC alpine skiers
Change doesn’t happen overnight, and the success that the AVSC-Alpine Team is enjoying has been building for several seasons.
“I’m pretty excited about the improvement in all of the groups,” said Greg Needell, who is in his third year as alpine director.
Later this month, AVSC will send eight athletes to the U.S. Nationals in Squaw Valley, Calif., where they will compete against U.S. Ski Team members and the country’s most competitive alpine skiers.
“Last year we didn’t send anyone,” Needell said.
The team heading to nationals includes Sydney Henegan, Julia Mueller-Ristine, Ben Throm, Andrew Hancock, Devon Cardamone, Nick Mitchell, Nick Veth and Nick Cohee.
This week, the top U18 skiers in the country, including Henegan, Throm, Hancock, Sky Kelsey, Colby Lane and Travis Lundin, are competing in the U18 Nationals at Copper Mountain. The championships began successfully with Kelsey, a first-year U18, finishing 10th in the downhill and Throm just .02 behind him in 11th.
Henegan started the (snow) ball rolling that day with a 12th in the discipline, her best finish ever in a FIS-level downhill. Giant slalom, slalom and a dual format race round out the rest of the U18 Nationals schedule.
Also this week, AVSC alum Katie Ryan finished fifth in the super-G at the World Junior Ski Championships in Jasna, Slovakia. Ryan could be a podium contender in the downhill. Also competing in Slovakia is local Dean Travers, who is representing the Cayman Islands (his older brother Dow Travers represented the Caymans during the 2014 Winter Olympics).
The World Juniors continue through March 6.
Interest in ski racing is growing across the Rocky Mountain region. A U10 championship event will be held for the first-time ever March 15-16 in Telluride. The next weekend, the U12s face off for their championships at Powderhorn.
Large fields for these championships, which are open to all athletes in the region, necessitated splitting the field. There were 380 kids at the 2013 U12 championships, which meant that the event still wasn’t finished at 5 p.m.
“I think there’s a large population in age class and it’s going to be pretty healthy for a long time,” Needell said. “The U12s are bigger than they’ve ever been.” The 60 AVSC athletes enrolled in devo and comp programs represent a doubling of the program from prior years.
The Dan Prater Memorial Cup in Crested Butte — which acts as a U14 championship qualifier — attracted a large and more competitive field this year, Needell said. Fourteen AVSC skiers qualified out of Prater Cup with an additional two skiers, Annabelle Ward and Trey Thorpe, earning their championship spot through the Council Cup (see next week’s Aspen Times for a U14 team photo).
The Council Cup at Ski Cooper, held Feb. 28-March 2, offers U16s and U14s another shot at the championships. It’s not an easy road for U16s, as only the overall male and female winners are selected (for U14s, the top three in each gender earn places in the championships).
Skiing some of the best runs of the year, AVSC’s Carly Ransford came oh-so-close to earning a trip to the postseason. Ransford, an Aspen Community School eighth grader, tied for second overall at Council Cup due primarily to her podium finishes in slalom and giant slalom.
“Carly should be really proud of herself,” Needell said. He also offered a shout-out to U16 Kajsa Sutro, who skied strong in the first super-G and again in slalom after coming back from an early season ankle injury. “Kajsa’s set up to do well in the spring.”
U16 skiers head to Steamboat Springs on Saturday for the Rocky/Central Junior Championships.
The team includes “three really strong boys,” Dexter Edelman, Cooper Cornelius and Tristan Lane, according to Needell. The trio has a good chance to advance to the U16 Nationals in Park City if they ski well next week.
Seven women will represent AVSC at the U16 Championships: Galena Wardle, Hanna Mass, Dolores Sharaf, Pascale Augspurger, Anna Patterson, Birgit Morris and Madison Osberger-Low.
Patterson won a race this season in her first year as a U16. Mass is a podium veteran who “is certainly capable of a win,” Needell said.
Regardless, he believes that an emphasis on fitness training has made a difference with this group. Case in point: During the U16 qualifying series, the team traveled from venue to venue at the halfway point, which was arduous, considering the poor weather and logistical challenges.
On the final run of the final day, when other athletes were running out of gas, Morris had the second fastest time, Mass was “right there in the mix,” Osberger-Low rose to the occasion, and Patterson prevailed to take the win.
“All of them were better prepared physically” than before, which was key to their series’ results, Needell said.
Hailey Swirbul of Basalt won the 5K in the U16 class at the 2014 USSA Cross Country Junior Championships in Stowe, Vt., by an impressive 15 seconds.
“That’s a huge amount for a 5K,” said Maria Stuber, AVSC’s Nordic program director. Swirbul was third fastest of all the women that day.
Teammate Logan McNamee finished in 38th, just 2.5 minutes behind the leaders. Her sibling Hudson had a “solid race,” finishing 110th among the national field.
In the final warm-up before the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, in Italy, Tyler Walker became the first-ever U.S. Adaptive male to win the overall World Cup title. Walker, a sit-skier, also won the slalom overall title and the speed title (downhill and super-G combined).
Chris Devlin-Young was second in speed behind Walker.
Laurie Stephens won the super combined title and was second in the overall slalom rankings.
Of the seven overall titles won by the national team, four will be coming back to Aspen.
Just over the hill in Vail, AVSC’s big mountain team competed in the JETA Regional event on Lovers Leap in Blue Sky.
“Our competitors were psyched to have powdery conditions and good visibility,” said coach Chason Russell.
The fastest growing program within AVSC, the big mountain skiers continue to improve, with podiums at Vail going to Logan Brown and Rhianna Borderick.
Nick Mitchell and Brooks Gorsuch skied into the top five in their respective divisions, and Will Lanter, Jackson Ferraro, Merak Millin, Phin Henry, Luca Doehling and Connor Laughren finished in the top 15.
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