Local ski racer Woods headed to junior worlds | AspenTimes.com

Local ski racer Woods headed to junior worlds

Nate Peterson

It’s just a coincidence that Elizabeth Woods’ recent string of career-best finishes started at a resort in British Columbia named Apex. Maybe.

Since making the trip to Apex last week, Woods, 17, of Snowmass Village, has been in top form ” and national team coaches have taken notice. Last Sunday, Woods posted what was then her best career result at the NorAm level when she finished ninth in the first of two super G races. She was then fifth the following day, then fifth again in another super G at Big Mountain, Mont., on Thursday.

Earlier this week ” while still in Montana ” she was notified that she had been selected by U.S. Ski Team coaches to compete at the Junior World Championships at Mont St. Anne in Quebec. Woods is set to race super G both today and Monday.

“It was kind of hard to comprehend for a little while when I found out,” said Woods, who has trained under the alpine staff at Crested Butte Academy for the past five years. “I had no idea it was going to happen, then all of the sudden I was skiing really well. I really wasn’t thinking about making the team, but then they told me.”

Woods’ head coach at CBA, Rob Worrell, also didn’t expect for his pupil to earn a spot on the national junior worlds team before leaving for Canada.

Woods made her first starts on the NorAm Cup ” one level below the World Cup ” this season, and finished no higher than 14th in her first four races in December. Afterward, Woods dropped down a level to compete in 10 FIS races, where she had one podium finish and three top-five finishes. Nothing led Worrell to believe, however, that Woods would finish in the top five when she made the jump back up to the NorAm level last week.

“The main reason she went up there [to Canada and Montana] was just to learn their speed venues and learn the courses and just kind of get her feet wet,” Worrell said. “She went in with low expectations at these events and really turned it on. I thought next year she’d have more of a chance to make that team.”

Now that she’s made one team, Woods’ shot at making another ” the U.S. Ski Team ” has vastly improved.

With her two top five finishes, Woods was beating the likes of U.S. Ski Team members Julia Littman, Chelsea Marshall and Jonna Mendes.

If she is to finish on the podium in one of the two races in Canada, she’ll automatically earn a team spot. Worrell also believes, solely based on her recent surge, that U.S. Ski Team coaches could grant her a discretionary spot on next year’s squad after this season.

“She wasn’t on anyone’s radar to make teams such as this before this season, but I think she has a really good chance,” Worrell said. “It depends. I think it changes every year with U.S. Ski Team philosophy, like, do we want to add more kids to the bottom of the pyramid, or do we want to raise the bar and make them work harder and stay home in their region? So it’s hard to tell, because every year the team does something different it seems.”

Worrell noted that, if team selections were done today, Woods’ spot would have to come from coaches’ discretion and not criteria. Any U.S. skier that is ranked amongst the top 150 in the world in two alpine disciplines at the end of the season is a lock for a spot. Woods currently qualifies for super G, where she is ranked in the top 120, but she’s outside of the top 150 in the other three disciplines of downhill, giant slalom and slalom, Worrell said.

As for talk of making the U.S. Ski Team, Woods said its definitely on her mind, but first she wants to focus on her races this week in Canada. The results should do the talking, she said.

“I think it will be a really good experience,” said Woods, who is in her senior year at CBA. “It will be really good to see these other girls my age from around the world and get to see how I stack up against them.”

If she doesn’t earn a team spot on the U.S. Ski Team after the season, it’s likely that she will forgo college for a year to focus on nailing down a team spot next season.

Worrell said he first started to think Woods might be primed for a breakthrough season after the two traveled to Hintertux, Austria, in October to train and compete with members of the U.S. Ski Team with a handful of the best juniors in the U.S.

It was there that Woods won her first race of the season. Then after returning from Austria, Woods was again invited to train with members of the U.S. Ski Team at Copper Mountain. Again, in the midst of some of the best skiers in the world, Woods made huge strides.

“What’s been great is she just really is coachable,” the coach said. “It’s not very often that two people are on the same page, but with her she always seems to understand what I’m trying to get across to her, which may not be the same for another. … At Copper this fall, she would jump in right behind Daron Rahlves a lot of times. Liz would be right behind him, so I’d video him, then her, then put it on a computer and do a digital analysis. Right away we could see that her hand positions weren’t nearly as smooth and clean from moving from high tuck to low tuck to turning positions. She quickly made the adjustments. It’s small adjustments in ski racing, but those little adjustments make a huge difference.”

Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com


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