Youth not a problem for the Aspen High School alpine ski teams at lone home race

Take a look at the results of Thursday’s ski races and one thing stands out above the rest for Aspen High School: the Skiers are ridiculously young.

Hosting its lone home meet of the season at snowy Aspen Highlands, the AHS alpine team seemingly cruised to the girls title and likely won the boys crown behind a group of mostly freshmen. The results weren’t official as of Thursday night.

“It’s incredible. We graduated 21 seniors last year and now we have these freshmen that are just killing it,” AHS coach Jennifer Morandi-Benson said. “It just ebbs and flows. Like last year, it was all about the seniors. This year, it’s the freshmen.”

According to the results, which aren’t expected to be made official by CHSAA until at least Friday, Aspen had six girls finish in the top nine in Thursday’s giant slalom, a group that includes five freshmen and a sophomore. AHS also had two freshmen boys finish in the top seven.

Morandi-Benson wasn’t expecting a rebuilding season by any means, but she also didn’t know what to expect from a large group of underclassmen that were mostly unknown to her. As the season approaches the finish line, it’s clear the team’s youth isn’t a hindrance in the slightest.

“The kids are new to me. The freshmen are new to me,” Morandi-Benson said. “We’ve got the talent in our freshmen, for sure, but we are always, always building. Especially with our Aspen High School athletes only, because we are a team that incorporates club racing. So we are constantly in that cycle of building and setting goals for the athletes that aren’t on the club.”

According to the team’s own unofficial math, AHS cruised to the girls title on Thursday. Freshman Samantha Edelman won with a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 19.18 seconds, edging out Battle Mountain senior Berit Frischholz. In third was Aspen freshman Lauren Haerter, in fourth AHS freshman Cate Simpson, in seventh AHS freshman Stella Sherlock, in eighth AHS sophomore Kailey Murphy, and in ninth AHS freshman Maddie Hicks.

Battle Mountain sophomore Will Bettenhausen won the boys race in 1:21.56 — the boys raced last and finished up on a snowier, slower course — while the Vail Mountain School duo of Cole Pattison and MacKay Pattison took second and third, respectively. In fourth was Aspen junior James Kelly, followed by AHS freshmen Connor Stephen, AHS junior Thomas Morris and AHS freshman Turner Estock.

Despite fresh snowfall on the Thunderbowl track Thursday morning, the races went off without much difficulty ahead of a strong winter storm that hit the area by late afternoon.

“We were so lucky. We were bracing ourselves,” Morandi-Benson said. “The course held up really, really well.”

Aspen is down to only one regular-season race, a Feb. 14 slalom at Loveland. Then, after a week off, the Skiers will head to the state championship at Beaver Creek on Feb. 27 and 28. So far, AHS has qualified 29 skiers for giant slalom at state (combined boys and girls) and 20 for slalom.

The AHS boys are the two-time defending champions in the combined alpine-nordic event, while the AHS girls were runner-up in 2019 after winning it all in 2018.

“Absolutely we have a shot, and I think nordic is doing really well,” Morandi-Benson said. “We’ve got a shot.”

The AHS nordic team is scheduled to host its lone home races of the season on Saturday, weather permitting.

The high school boys are slated to start at 10:50 a.m., followed by the high school girls at 1 p.m. The high school awards are set for 1:30 p.m., with the middle school racing to get underway around 2 p.m.