U.S. Nationals Champ!

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.

Off to the Homeland and Another Nor-Am Podium

The last time I left off, I was waiting out some bad weather in France and hoping for a turn-around and good weather to get one more GS in before heading back home.  Instead, the rain/snow continued forcing my 5th canceled GS race of the season.

I flew back to Boston and had about five days to kill before flying up to the next tech Nor-am series in Nakiska, Canada.  I ended up staying in New England and hanging out with the old team at Dartmouth.  After being on the road for that long, living out of my duffel bag, and having to begin to reverse dirty socks by that point, I was excited to have a laundry day and start smelling a little better again.  I got a few good days of training in and then took off for Canada.

Being in Nakiska and out in the middle of the Canadian Rockies, I expected nothing less than to jog past a couple of moose standing just off the main road heading to the ski area.  The race series started off pretty well.  The snow was very chalky and grippy and it took a few runs to get used to it.  In the first run of the slalom I had a little mistake, which cost me some time and put me in 12th place, but I came back with a ripping second run, moving me all the way up to 2nd overall!  This gave me my second Nor-Am podium for the year.  In the second slalom, I was within striking distance for the race and had a great second run going before sliding out on some ball-bearing snow in a turn and getting kicked out of the course right towards the bottom.  With the run I had going, I really believe I would have been close the leader that race, if not on top of the podium, and perhaps giving me the race I needed to qualify for the U.S. Ski Team.  But that is the nature of ski racing and I have to keep skiing the way I am and it will come.

The wind kicked up during the GSs, creating some strong wind blasts on the course, sometimes laying the panels flat on the ground.  Coming out of the start, there was such a strong tail wind, it felt like you took off from 0 to 60 in just a few seconds.  On the flats, I got strong head-wind gust, which slowed my pace and set me back to 26th place, but I had more of a favorable tail-wind on the flats the second run, which put me 4th place for the run and moved me into the top 15 overall.  Some of the races didn’t go as well as I had hoped, but I was skiing well and had some good things going.  I just have to carry the confidence I gained into the next race series.

I have a bit of a break now as not too many races are happening, so I have been resting and training a bit here in Colorado.  There are a pair of GSs and slaloms in Lutsen, MN that I am thinking about going to next week, which are set to be decent races with the likes of Dane Spencer, Warner Nickerson and other ex-U.S. Ski Team members planning to make a showing.  It’ll be fun to make a trip back to the old midwestern homeland too, as I haven’t been back to my birthplace for quite some time.

A Nor-Am Podium…Finding the Groove in GS

Well, I’m back overseas racing the European circuit.  Just before I left, I was in Sunday River, Maine, racing the Nor-Am tech series over there.  I raced my first GS race of the season there as all the ones on my schedule before that had been canceled.  I had been training GS and felt like I was making progress in the event and skiing well, but I wasn’t sure exactly how fast it was.  The snow was good and hard and the conditions were still great for me with bib number 29, and after the first run, I found myself sitting in 5th place.  On the second go-around, I was just going for a solid run and to ski like I had in the first leg.  My plan worked out and I finished in 3rd place overall…my first Nor-Am podium and coming from a GS.  I hadn’t exactly seen that coming as I have had success on and off throughout my career in GS, but this is by far my result in the event.  I was very happy with the finish and it seems that my GS skiing is definitely coming along.

 

On the second run of that day, however, Charles Christianson, a friend and fellow college grad gunning for the US Ski Team, crashed through a panel and injured his knee, sidelining him for the remainder of the season.  This shows how brutal our sport can be after putting in so much hard work and time just trying to get a glimpse of the dreams we are chasing.  My thoughts go out to him for a speedy recovery. 

 

The next day, I started in the first 15 with the Nor-Am points I scored, and with the confidence boost from the day before, I put a little more heat into my run.  I had a fast run going until right towards the bottom, a silly mistake took me out of the race.  I just got caught up and stuck on my inside ski and couldn’t bring the turn around to the next gate.

 

The slaloms were next and I had some solid runs each day, but also some mistakeseach day.  I ended up with a 7th and a 5thplace.  I accumulated enough Nor-Am points with these results to put me into the top 15 overall rank, ensuring me with a better start position and within great striking range for the next slaloms in Nakiska, Canada in early February.

 

Back to Europe it was and back to the bullet-proof, water-injected snow.  I had couple of DNFs in the first difficult slalom series in Oberjoch, Germany.  I was skiing pretty well though so I wasn’t too worried about it.  After a 9 1/2 hour drive, I was in France ready to race another couple of slaloms.  In the first race, the visor guard of my slalom helmet broke off and fell down directly in front of my eyes.  I couldn’t see a thing and hooked the tip of my ski on a gate soon afterwards.  Not a great day.  The next day the slalom was a regular FIS race, but with the exact same European Cup field as the day before.  It was a beautiful sunny day as well (my first race taking place in the sun all year), which definitely put me in better spirits.  I put down two clean runs and finished in 7th place.  I was a little too far off the leader to score a result, but it was a great confidence builder for me to take to the next race and a great feeling to mix it in with the skiers of that caliber.

 

I am now waiting out another canceled GS race, a Europa Cup in La Toussiere, France.  It is dumping snow outside and it is supposed to keep snowing through tomorrow.  They will try to get the race off tomorrow.  Hopefully, we can get one more good race in before flying back home here the day after tomorrow.

Home For a White Christmas

After a snowy start to the year at the Nor-Am races in Colorado, we flew over to Europe hoping to find some hard snow and good training to prepare for the Europa Cup circuit.  The day after we arrived and spent the night in a little apartment near Innsbruck, Austria, we went up and freeskied at San Vigilio, Italy, the location of the upcoming races.  It was a nice sunny day and I got a little taste of one of the toughest GS hills out there…steep, dark, and icy.  The slalom hill, being on the same slope, isn’t too much different.

 

We drove down to Paganella, Italy, in the heart of the Dolomites to get a few quality days of training in before the San Vigilio Europa Cups.  Unfortunately, the snow followed us all the way over seas dumping over two meters of snow on top of the already unseen amounts of snow there.  One of the locals told us that they haven’t seen that much snow in the area for 25 years.  As a result, the slalom at San Vigilio and a following GS we had in our plan ended up being canceled.

 

We decided to head up north to Austria, where the snow hadn’t been so fierce and the conditions were quite good for training.  We ended up getting three great days of training before the next two Europa Cup slaloms set to go in Oberegen and Pozza, Italy.

 

We arrived at the first race and conditions were prime.  The snow was hard enough that with bib number 52, I had an opportunity to put down a good run and could get a decent result.  I got on the chairlift to go up for my first run.  Within sight of the top, the lift suddenly stopped.  After ten minutes of sitting on the chair, I figured it was something more than someone falling out of balance by getting off the lift.  After about 40 minutes, the chair finally started back up and I hurried to the start of the course.  Luckily, bib number 51 and many after me were also missing from the start and they were forced to hold the race until the lift began running again and racers showed up at the start.  Sitting on the lift in the cold for that long, however, will stiffen up anyone’s body.  There was enough time at the start for me to warm back up though and I was ready for the run.  I started off skiing pretty well at the top of the course, getting into its rhythm, but half-way down, I unfortunately got caught in bit of a rut pushing my inside ski towards the gate and causing me to hook my tip around it, disqualifying me from the race.  Time to head to the next night slalom race in Pozza.

 

During inspection in Pozza, the snow also seemed perfect on the steep piste under the lights.  It was only a thin crust of hard snow though, and it broke down into holes pretty quickly during the race.  Even though in ragged fashion, I made it down the first run and into the top 30, allowing me to run at the front of the pack for the second run with the reverse 30 format.  With a 26 finish position, I ran 5th for the second run.  This gives a great advantage of a clean course to ski the way I want and know how.  I tried to take as much of this advantage as I could and let my skis run onto the bottom flats of the course and finishing 6th for the second run against the World Cup field present.  I moved up to 22nd overall finishing my first Europa Cup and even scoring Europa Cup points by finishing in the top 30 of the field.

 

It was nice coming home for the Christmas season to powder on the slopes without having to race. and with some success coming out of the somewhat difficult Europe trip, I am ready and excited for the next Nor-Am races coming up in Sunday River, Maine in the first week of 2009.  I know I am skiing well and I am looking forward to more good opportunities for strong finishes.  I hope you all had a great holiday season and have a happy New Year.

Winter-time in Colorado

Winter has arrived in Colorado, but unfortunately, it’s timing wasn’t the best.  For the most of November, there was no snow falling in the state, providing a pretty good training opportunity for me on the man-made surfaces of Loveland and Copper Mt.  It was great to train, on and off snow, with the U.S. Team and to have a pace at the level I need to ski.  I worked on becoming comfortable with my new equipment for the year and tried to find what works the best for my style.  I definitely felt like I made progress in my skiing during this pre-season camp, pushing myself to become more aggressive and ski faster.  Now it’s time to put the progress to work.

 

The Nor-Am circuit was planned to begin on Monday of this week, but a three-day storm, unloading a supposed total of 60 inches of new snow on Loveland Pass, postponed the races for a day.  The untimely snow definitely created soft and difficult conditions for today’s first slalom race.  By the time I ran on the course at only bib number 14, grooves and ruts were present at the gates, but I still managed to ski down in 9th position after the first run, among most of the U.S. technical team and elite World Cup skiers from other nations including France and Switzerland.  A mistake in the second run proved costly, moving me back 17th position in the tightly packed field, just 0.5 seconds away from the top 10 to give a picture.  Although I didn’t get the result I was hoping for, there were things to be happy about as I had one good run and my skiing is in a place where I can definitely obtain some really good results on a good day.  There are three more Nor-Am slaloms here in CO in the next few days as the GS races in Winter Park have been changed to slaloms due to a lack of snow to hold the giant slaloms.  Still plenty of chances left.