Back for 09-10

It’s been a while since the last post, but I’m back as the season is almost under way.  I had a good summer and spent most of it training in Park City at the U.S. Ski Team’s new Center of Excellence building.  It was a new experience and a great advantage for me to have such a facility and a training staff along with it available to me.  I definitely clocked more hours in the gym this summer than any other, so I felt strong on snow over the summer and feel confident going into the winter months.

For August, we took off to go skiing down south.  We set up base near Queenstown in New Zealand and trained there for about 3 weeks.  The first half of the trip was great; the weather held up, and for the most part, the snow was perfect to train on.  The weather got warm and rain moved in for the last week of training, and a small muscle strain in my back forced me to sit out for a few days of skiing.  I was happy that it wasn’t a serious injury, but at the same time, it was kind of a bummer since it was just a nagging pain that didn’t quite let me train at my full potential.  It also luckily happened towards the latter part of the trip so it didn’t set me back too much.  All in all, it ended up being a good trip as I got comfortable with my new equipment and took some strides to make my skiing even faster.

After a couple weeks at home and healing my back, I was in good shape for our camp in Saas Fee, Switzerland where I just got back from.  Again the weather was great to start off the two-week camp, giving us some prime glacier training.  The entire men’s tech team present, including Ted Ligety and Bode Miller making his return to the U.S. Team, so it was a great group to train with out there to get ready for the beginning of the upcoming season.  I was happy with my skiing and felt like I was getting back into good form.  Towards the end of the camp though, I had another little mishap when I tweaked my knee in a slalom crash, which took me out for the rest of the camp.  Luckily, I didn’t tear any ligaments and it looks like it is just a bruise on my patella or something of the sorts.  It already feels great and it should be back to 100% by our next camp gets under way here in Colorado in two weeks.  I’m just getting all the crashes and injuries out of the way before things really get rolling.

With the opening World Cup slalom coming up in about a month in Levi, Finland, there are two U.S. spots up for grabs and four of us competing for the opportunity.  The plan was to hold a time trial towards the end of our camp in Saas Fee to decide who would clench the spots.  Tim Kelley, Nolan Kasper, Paul McDonald, and I would battle it out in a three-run slalom session where the best two runs would count and the winners would get the Levi berths.  Things didn’t quite go to plan, however, as Paul injured his back a week into the trip and flew home early, and I had my knee injury just a few days before the time trial.  The two healthy skiers ended up going head-to-head for one of the spots where Nolan edged out Timmy for the spot.  He’ll be starting his first World Cup in Levi so congrats to him for that.  To try and make it fair, another time trial for the remaining spot is set up at the beginning of November during our Colorado camp, so I still have a shot at making it up to Levi.  Hopefully we’re all ready to go by then, and after that, I hope I’ll be on a plane and on my way to make my own World Cup debut!

The Dream Alive

For the last month, I’ve been sweating it out and checking the FIS page daily, waiting in anticipation for the latest FIS points list to come out, the one from which the U.S. Ski Team makes its selections.  Last week the world ranking list was updated and, with the help of my US Nationals slalom win, I had squeaked into the top 60 and met the criteria set by the US Team.  A few days later, my phone rang.  The US Alpine Team’s head coach made it official that I had been nominated to the 2009-2010 U.S. B Team!

I am currently ranked exactly 60th so it was very close, since a few skiers had jumped in front of me because of their injury protection status which locks them into their world rank while they recover and are fit to race again.  I didn’t anticipate some of these guys getting ahead of me so my heart was thumping when I realized how narrow the edge on which I was sitting was, but I made it!

This is a huge checkpoint in my skiing career.  It is something that I have been working hard at for a long, long time, ultimately, even if I knew it or not at the time, since my racing days got under way some 17 years ago.  With this goal that I strived to reach this year accomplished, it’s time to set my sights forward to the next step and begin the next leg of my journey.  My dream is still very alive.  Next season should be very exciting and I am eager to see what it will bring.  I hope to earn some World Cup starts and begin battling withthe big boys there.  As for now, I’m headed back to the snow at Mammoth next weekend for our first camp and begin dialing in the new equipment.

I want to thank everyone following along with my progress and those who have aided me in any form this season.  Thank you for helping me reach the demanding goal I had set for myself this year and to get me to where I am right now.  Thank you for your support and for believing in me.

U.S. Nationals on TV

Be sure to tune in to the Versus (VS) Channel to watch the coverage of the slalom and Downhill portions of U.S. Nationals in Alaska.  I’m not exactly sure what is going to be shown, but I think I have some sort of interview and hopefully some parts of my slalom runs as well so check it out.  It airs twice at the following times:

Sat. April 11, 2009: 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. EST

Tue. April 14, 2009: 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. EST

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.