Hearn catapults to No. 2 in super G rankings
Aspen Times Sportswriter
Fifteen-year-old racer Gillian Hearn of Aspen catapulted into the No. 2 spot in the national rankings for super G, in her age group, based on two fine results Sunday and Monday on Aspen Mountain.
Racing in her first Chevy Truck Super Series Nor Am events against the top juniors in the Rockies, the Aspen High sophomore and Aspen Valley Ski/Snowboard Club (AVSC) racer posted a 35th Sunday and a 28th Monday to skyrocket up through the rankings.
Fifteen-year-olds are the youngest competitors permitted to compete at FIS-level events, where racers earn the points on the same scale as World Cup racers.
“She put a huge dent in her points,” said Dave Hjerleid, AVSC’s alpine director and the chief-of-race for the four-day event on Ajax. “At this level, even though her results don’t appear to be fabulous, if you compare her results to the older, more experienced girls, she did really well.”
The events on Ajax included the final speed races on the Chevy Truck Super Series Nor Am circuit for women, and the Dan Bean Memorial Speed Series for the men. Two downhills were staged Friday and Saturday, followed by the super Gs on Sunday and Monday. About 60 men and women started each event.
Aspen’s Toby Lamar, 16, set the pace for the AVSC men in super G. Lamar was 16th on Sunday and 14th on Monday.
“He did really well skiing from the back of the pack,” Hjerleid said. “He had an injury season last year so he was starting in the low 40s and ending up top-20 all four days.
“I was also really impressed with our 15-year-old boys: Lange Adams, Packey Westfeldt and McCabe Mallin,” Hjerleid continued. “The way they threw their shoulders into the fall lines and attacked the hill, it’s a testament to their courage. They’re young and they made mistakes, but if they continue with that enthusiasm, they’re going to be on the right track.”
Will McDonald, a former AVSC racer, finished sixth in both super Gs.
AVSC’s Jesse Durrance, Gregory Tuscher and Coulter Hoff also made strides, Hjerleid said.
“Tuscher was really taking risks this week, and he paid for it; he didn’t finish a few days, but he skied well technically and very aggressively.”
Hoff “started the weekend forerunning because he didn’t have the points to get in at first, but then he got a chance to race the two super Gs,” Hjerleid said, “and he beat guys seeded in front of him, so we’re really happy about that.”
This weekend’s races marked the second year Aspen has hosted the four-day speed series. AVSC won the Lange Award for last year’s inaugural event, as the “most outstanding race” in the Rocky Mountain Region. Hjerleid said this year’s event was equally successful.
“We’re ecstatic. We hit a home run with this one. People from around the country were really impressed. It was a mountain of work, but we put on a great race,” he said.
In seven days of racing, including three days of downhill training prior to the first race on Friday, only four racers were injured, including one broken leg.
“We had a couple injuries, and that’s too bad, but all things considered, it’s a testament to the course setting and the protection on the hill,” Hjerleid said. “It’s not bowling. This is a dangerous, risk-taking sport and that’s what makes it fun.”
For the racers, the Aspen venue – the America’s Downhill course, a former World Cup site – is the most challenging hill they race all season.
“We pretty much take the cake,” he said. “The technical difficulty of the hill far exceeds simple speed alone.”
Hjerleid said the Aspen racers enjoyed a home-field advantage. Last week, the Aspen Skiing Co. allowed the team to train on the course before the mountain opened, or school for that matter.
“It was a huge advantage for us,” he said. “We were up there at 7 a.m. doing snowmobile laps back up the course to train super G gates on Aztec and Spring Pitch,” the steepest and most technical section on the top of the course.
The Outdoor Life Network (OLN) will broadcast a one-hour program from the races on March 7 at 6 p.m.
Hjerleid said AVSC hopes to establish the races as an annual event in Aspen.
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Peter Arnold’s playing career ended after high school, but his time on the ice continues a few decades later. A longtime USA Hockey official and new Aspen resident, Arnold is searching for the next generation of hockey referees among the youth ranks here in the Roaring Fork Valley.