It’s been a pretty hectic last month and a little while since I’ve last posted an update. There have been a lot of races packed into the schedule the last few weeks for the annual spring race crunch. And without traveling with a computer and crashing on old friends’ and Dartmouth grads’ couches and futons the last month, it’s been hard to find time to write an update, but I do have great news!
After the competitions up in frigid Lutsen, where I won both slaloms and the overall for the 4 day series and earned myself a little prize money to help out some of my travel expenses, I headed home to Crested Butte for a weekend. I raced an FIS slalom a GS on my home hill I think for the first time since I was 12 years old in the J4 Prater Cup. It was nice to get back on the familiar slopes and have some fun with my parents and friends that showed up in some beautiful weather as well. I finished the GS race in third and won the slalom race with former Western State skier Ben Brown in second and fellow Crested Buttian and neighbor Max Lamb rounding out the podium so it was a pretty cool day for the locals. The weather was warm and sunny and the snow was perfect. I was a little tired for the second run after hiking into the back bowls of Crested Butte a couple of times, but it was great training for the races about to come. The spring season was coming and it was time to get down to business as the big races I had my sights on were approaching.
I flew out to the east coast to race the Nor-am Cup series finals in Lake Placid, NY. The weather on the other side of the country was just as warm as out west, creating a bit of a soft layer on top of the surface…a little too much for comfort for racing. I ended up struggling with it in the GS race, but coped well in the slalom, ending up in 3rd place after the first run. A few nerves were running through me before the second leg of the race and I ended up skiing a bit conservatively. I still finished out the day with a fifth place and a pretty nice 11 point result to go with it, but still about a few tenths of a second off the mark to drop my ranking to where I need it. After a short trip over to Stowe, VT for a couple GS races, it was time to fly out to one of the benchmark races the season has been leading up to…The 2009 U.S. Alpine National Championships.
It was not an easy task to get up to Anchorage, AK as Mt. Redoubt, a volcano located about 100 miles to the southeast, was in the middle of spewing ash and steam and canceling a bunch of flights. I did finally get up to the Alyeska Resort after a few re-routs and an overnight delay. I had a few days to prepare for the races during the speed events that I wasn’t competing, but after consecutive days of snow dumps and over 100 inches accumulating while we were there, I ended up having a great time skiing some of the best powder and terrain I’ve been in instead of training.
The day came for the slalom event I was focused on and really looking forward to. Unfortunately neighboring Mt. Redoubt blew its top and dusted a nice layer of ash on the snow. Skis run on ash about as well as on concrete, which makes it tough to hit the wax. Luckily another 14 inches or so of snow covered the ash overnight and the slalom track had gotten slipped and buffed out pretty well to prepare for the race. I was feeling strong and came out firing for the first run. Just before the final pitch I had a little trouble with the soft snow, and I slipped onto my side for a split second. I pulled it back in and charged down the pitch and the rest of the way, knowing that I had lost a little bit of time. The outcome was fourth for the run and only a bit over .2 of a second off of World Cup skier Jimmy Cochran’s leading time, which really wasn’t a bad place to be. I am definitely more comfortable with chasing after a win than to try and hold the lead for the second run.
The second run had some pretty good turns on it and even a little bit of hard snow on the small pitch into the finish flats. I was starting 27th in the second run with the flip 30 position rule, but I was feeling really good and calm at the start and knew there was no reason to hold back. I charged right out of the gate. I knew I had a good run and good line going for the conditions and took a deep breath before headed down the pitch towards the finish. I let my skis run well into the flats, carrying my speed and pushing as hard as I could to the finish dye line. I was in the lead with the three competitors behind me. I was confident that I had done well, but wasn’t too sure my time would hold up. It did hold up against the next two racers, Cody Marshall and Tim Jitloff, both U.S. Team and World Cup athletes. At that point, my heart was pumping and I knew I had a chance to win against the first run leader and defending U.S. Nationals slalom champion. Jimmy came through the finish and I frantically asked people what the outcome was as I hadn’t gone to check my time off of the board yet. A little bit delayed, the announcer soon revealed the results. I had won the slalom run by about 7 tenths of a second and the overall by .38 seconds. I had won the 2009 U.S. Alpine Nationals slalom title.
This was by far the greatest race result of my career and what I’ve been searching and striving for all year. I am also hoping this will fulfill the mission I set out for this year, to get my world ranking in slalom below 60 and qualify for the U.S. B Team. It looks like my point score of 8.9 at U.S. Nationals should get me there, but it will be close as there have been quite a few skiers scoring well all over the world. I am going to have to sweat it out until May 1st, when the official ranking list of the year comes out to be sure, but it is looking pretty good so far.
It was just as difficult to fly out of Alaska as it was coming in. I had a few days of delay as the volcano kept erupting and intimidating the planes and pilots. I ended up missing a few spring series races that would have been important before my Nationals result, but I didn’t really mind being stuck in Alaska any more as long as I made it home in some fashion and at some point. I made it back to Colorado in time to finish the year off with a few more snowy races. I called it a season after feeling pretty worn down from traveling and skiing at the first Colorado spring series slalom. I found the result I was looking for this year, and on top of that, a sweet slalom title that I didn’t quite expect…a U.S. National slalom title to go along with my NCAA slalom championship. An achievement that I can’t quite believe yet. Now it’s time to head to some warmer weather, get my mind off of the snow and feet out of the ski boots, and see what happens come May.