Colorado, and Aspen, sending strong contingent to ski mountaineering worlds in Switzerland
Last week’s Audi Power of Four ski mountaineering race in Aspen was a good tune up. Now, for many of the top athletes who competed, the stakes get a little bit bigger.
The 2019 World Ski Mountaineering Championships begin Sunday and run through March 16 in Villars-sur Ollon, Switzerland. Both Aspen and the state of Colorado are well represented in worlds, which is held every two years.
“We are super excited. We had a really good turnout for our different qualifying events to name the U.S. team. We currently have the largest team we’ve ever had,” said United States Ski Mountaineering Association President Ram Mikulas. “As the sport is growing, the epicenter really is Colorado and a lot of that has to do with the number of races that are put on here in Colorado.”
USSMA named 41 to its national team this winter, with 35 expected to compete in Switzerland. Of those, 16 are women and 28 are from Colorado, with the largest group coming out of Summit County. No less than six claim the Roaring Fork Valley as home.
“It’s just going to be the experience of a lifetime,” Aspen’s Caden Klein said. “It’s going to be really cool. I’m very excited.”
Klein is one of 20 athletes who are under 21 years of age. He and George Beck, both 16 and sophomores at Aspen High School, will compete in the cadet men’s (age 15 to 17) division at worlds. The duo paired to win the Power of Two race in Aspen earlier this month.
While most of the veterans going to worlds are familiar names, it’s the youth that really stands out this year.
“The new and significant difference is the amount of youth we have on the team,” Mikulas said. “It’s really significant and shows the growth and development of youth in this sport, and that’s been a big push for our organization over the last couple of years. We are starting to see that pay off and we are super excited.”
In terms of veterans, Aspen’s John Gaston and Max Taam, who yet again won the Power of Four this month, will return to worlds where they are savvy veterans. Taam’s wife, Jessie Young, and her Power of Four-winning teammate Nikki LaRochelle of Breckenridge are two of the top U.S. women headed back to worlds.
Also headed to Switzerland are Aspen’s Jack Linehan and Boulder’s Rory Kelly, who grew up in the Aspen area.
This year’s Power of Four runner-ups, Crested Butte’s Cam Smith and Utah’s Tom Goth, will also compete in Europe.
“I’m really stoked about it and I’m able to do a lot of races over there,” Smith said. “I’m really excited to make big improvements on where I was last time, because it was a big learning experience two years ago and I’ve grown a lot since then.”
There are five disciplines in skimo, with many of the local athletes expected to compete in either four or five of the events. It begins with Sunday’s sprint race. Following are the individual races, vertical races, team races and the concluding relay races.
The Power of Four in Aspen named the 2019 U.S. national champions in both team events and the vertical. Gaston was part of both national titles for the men.
“I just feel more mentally prepared,” LaRochelle said. “It’s a completely different ball game over there. It’s so much faster and the courses are a whole different experience. I think having gone before helps just being prepared and knowing what to anticipate.”
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Not only did Hamilton win Saturday’s 50k race, but he won by more than 56 minutes, a testament to the lung capacity of an Olympic-level endurance athlete.