NCAA event a throwback to 1989 World Championships | VailDaily.com

NCAA event a throwback to 1989 World Championships

Racers take off from the start of the men's 20km race in the NCAA West Regional Championships on Sunday at Maloit Park in Minturn. The championships included alpine and Nordic racing and were hosted by the University of Denver with help from Ski & Snowboard Club Vail and Vail Resorts.

EAGLE COUNTY – With current World Cup racers in the field, Beaver Creek saw its highest level of ski racing competition for the 2016-17 season at the NCAA West Regional ski championships over the weekend.

The event was hosted by the University to Denver and was a true tribute to former DU coach Willy Schaeffler, as the alpine races were held on Willy's Face, which is named after Schaeffler. After the regular World Cup races were canceled this year on Beaver Creek's Birds of Prey course, the decision was made in late January to hold the alpine portion of the West regional championships under Beaver Creek's Centennial Express lift.

"We had to go to a trail that had snowmaking on it, which gets groomed every day," said PJ Jenick, Alpine Race Coordinator with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. "So we had a hard, firm, race track, which held up tremendously."

The Centennial area including Willy's Face and Bear Trap were used during the 1989 World Championships for the downhill course, so the entire run has been homologated, or certified, by the International Ski Federation for competition. The Western Regional Championships only saw giant slalom and slalom races, which were easy to put together compared to a downhill in that area, said Jenick.

"We took the most difficult portion of that section of the front side and chopped it up into a giant slalom course," Jenick said. "The competitors loved it, the coaches loved it, it was very successful."

'BROUGHT BACK MEMORIES'

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A highlight for Jenick was watching local racers return to the course as college athletes, including former Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athletes Abby Ghent, Katherine Irwin and Alex Leever.

"I've been watching Abby (Ghent) ski her whole life," Jenick said.

Ghent finished 11th in the slalom.

"It was super fun racing down Centennial right underneath the chondola," Ghent said. "Racing down Bear Trap brought back a lot of memories because we used to race down that when I was just a J5."

Ghent, who has herself raced at the World Cup level and is now racing for the University of Utah, said the overall professionalism of the race was evident.

"A lot of the people who would normally work at Birds of Prey were out there helping with the race, so that was really nice," Ghent said.

GOAL TO HOST NATIONALS

A goal for the University of Denver and Ski & Snowboard Club Vail would be to host the NCAA National Championships, a country-wide version of the regional championships, so feedback like Ghent's is exactly what organizers were hoping to hear following the event's conclusion on Sunday.

"It was incumbent upon Ski Club Vail and Vail Resorts to produce the best possible event for this level," Jenick said. "Fortunately it went really, really well, and everybody was enjoying that part of Beaver Creek's old downhill race arena."

The other component of the western regional ski championships was the Nordic side, which took place at Maloit Park in Minturn. CB Bechtell with Ski & Snowboard Vail said the weather was a little nicer for the Nordic racers than it was for the alpine athletes, and the cold temperatures provided a nice atmosphere for endurance competition.

"Dan Weiland and his team of volunteers did an amazing job with the Nordic races," Bechtell said. "The terrain, the quality of course, the grooming — it was all exceptional."

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