Youth served on Ajax as Lamar cruises to wins
Aspen Times Staff Writer
It’s certifiable, just as he’s certifiable, too – Aspen’s Toby Lamar is the fastest man on Aspen Mountain.
The 17-year-old proved it Saturday and Sunday, winning back-to-back downhills during the FIS-level Dan Bean Memorial Trophy Series event on Ajax’s feared and revered America’s Downhill course. And, he’ll lay it on the line all over again today and Tuesday for two super G races on the same eye-popping course.
Lamar, who grew up racing with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and is now part of the club’s “post graduate” program, bested 58 of the top speed-specialists in the West to capture his first victories at the FIS level. The wins also earned him an invitation to the U.S. National Championships, slated for mid-March at Alyeska, Alaska.
Included in the field that finished behind Lamar on Sunday was his coach at AVSC, Casey Puckett, a four-time Olympian and five-time U.S. national champion who retired from the U.S. Ski Team after last winter.
Puckett raced Sunday’s downhill to help reduce the handicap for the men’s field, effectively enabling young racers to improve their overall ranking, but even he couldn’t catch Lamar. Puckett was second on Sunday.
“Actually, I wasn’t that surprised,” Puckett said. “I was hoping for it, really, because I’m coaching him. I wanted him to beat me but I skied a solid run, I didn’t sandbag at all; I wasn’t racing at my absolute top speed, but I skied the course well, and Toby was fast enough to beat me.”
Lamar won Saturday with an unofficial time of 1 minute, 16.39 seconds, and Sunday in 1:18.23, when Aztec had “really rough, tough, grippy snow, almost ice,” said Lamar.
“It feels great. It was one of my main goals this season and my plan of attack to make it to nationals. This was my big goal last year, too, but it was too big of a goal. This year, I knew I could do it,” he said.
Lamar said he finished “top 15” in the two downhills last year, the second year that AVSC, the Aspen Skiing Co., and the United States Ski and Snowboard Association combined to stage the event that has since gained national attention in ski racing circles.
In 2001, the event – the Dan Bean Memorial Trophy Series for the men, the Chevy Truck Super Series NorAm for the women – earned the Lange Award as the top event in the Rocky Mountain Region. And last year, the NorAm committee voted the event the “most well-organized event” of the year, according to Dave Hjerleid, AVSC’s alpine director and the chief of race for the event.
“We’re always challenged with providing the kinds of opportunities that will prepare our young skiers for the Wengens [and] the Hahnenkamms of the World Cup circuit,” said Walt Evans, USSA’s coordinator of alpine development.
“And Aspen does that so well.”
(Official results from the men’s and women’s races, which included members of the Canadian and U.S. national teams, were not available Sunday.)
As for beating Puckett, who raced the Dan Bean downhill last year for training two weeks prior to the Olympics, well, Lamar seemed more impressed with that than anything else.
“I’ve never done it before,” he said. “It’s a new feat. I’d imagine he’ll push a little harder next time.”
Lamar grew up skiing with AVSC until his freshman year in high school, when he left for Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont. After one season at Burke, he moved to Park City, Utah, for three winters, where he eventually graduated from the Park City Winter School. Then prior to last season, Lamar returned home to Aspen to rejoin AVSC.
“I’ve grown up skiing on that hill. I know the terrain as well as any place I’ve skied, and we train on the hill three or four times a week, so it does give me an advantage over the other guys,” he said.
It’s an advantage that Lamar’s likely to exploit again today and Tuesday for the two super Gs for the men and women. Racing is scheduled to get under way today at 10:30 a.m., Puckett said, with the women running first.
[Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]