Locals make Alpine Junior World Championships team | VailDaily.com

Locals make Alpine Junior World Championships team

Avon resident Florian Szewebel, right, qualified to compete in the FIS Alpine World Junior Championships in Are, Sweden, in March. Szewebel qualified based on his competition results on the North America Cup; he is pictured here on a North America Cup junior podium at Copper Mountain earlier this month, where he finished the downhill sixth overall, third among juniors.

VAIL — As the World Alpine Ski Championships were wrapping up Sunday, the U.S. Ski Team was also busy finalizing their selections for the junior version of that event, the FIS Alpine Junior World Championships.

Taking place in Are, Sweden, in March, the Alpine Junior World Championships will include a men's and women's downhill, super-G, alpine combined, slalom, giant slalom and a mixed team event. The U.S. Ski Team announced their final 15-member team selection on Friday, which includes Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s River Radamus, of Edwards, Nina O'Brien, of Edwards, from the Burke Mountain Academy Ski Team; Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s Rachael DesRochers, who is from Mammoth Lakes, California, and Florian Szwebel, a Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athlete from Avon.

Szwebel, 20, is a Junior Worlds veteran, this being his third.

"It's a big event and it's treated that way," said Szwebel, who competes on the Nor-Am circuit with the U.S. Ski Team's development squad. "All the races we do are international competitions, but this is one of the only ones where we're really truly racing against a deep international field. There's generally a pretty good crowd at the races … there's parades in the beginning, they have opening ceremonies which everyone walks in, it's really exciting."

The races are usually televised on European networks, as well.

"We'll get the live feed videos of it afterward which is pretty cool," Szwebel said.

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QUALIFIED VIA NOR-AMS

The team qualified based on their competition results on the North America Cup, otherwise known as the Nor-Ams.

Szwebel is coming off an impressive Nor-Ams season, notching a few top-10 finishes including a 6th-place finish in the downhill — third among juniors — earlier this month at Copper Mountain in a race that doubled as a national championship downhill for Americans. It came amid a stretch of what was supposed to be 11 straight days of Nor-Am racing, but downhillers like Szwebel ended up getting a little break.

"It was pretty brutal," Szwebel said. "After the fifth day they compressed the downhill schedule, got rid of one of the training runs and ran two races in one day, so it gave us two free days."

Szwebel finished the Nor-Ams downhill season ranked seventh, fifth among Americans. The Nor-Ams super-G standings have yet to be determined; Szwebel currently sits 13th, seventh among Americans. Four super-G races are scheduled for the U.S. Nationals in Sugarloaf, Maine, March 22-23, which will double as the Nor-Am finals for super-G.

"I've had some good results this season, but I'm poised to make a little bit bigger move, I think," Szwebel said. "Hopefully I can get up on that podium at Nor-Am finals."

'REALLY STRONG TEAM'

Szwebel and Radamus made the U.S. Ski Team's development squad last season through the team's new National Performance Series pipeline, where athletes from around the country get together in head-to-head competitions.

Matt Underhill, who was Szwebel and Radamus' coach at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, said the National Performance Series is a much better identifier of talent than the points system that was previously used, where skiers would compete in regional races and earn points throughout the season.

"When you get head to head, you actually get to see these guys race the same course, same day, same snow, and really measure them better than just comparing points," Underhill said. "Guys can get frustrated looking at a computer screen and looking at point profiles, but if they can see themselves actually competing head to head and finding success, I think it helps motivate."

The Alpine Junior World Championships team will be comprised of U.S. Ski Team development athletes like Szwebel and Radamus, as well as National Training Group athletes who were also selected through the National Performance Series.

"It's particularly exciting to see (National Training Group) athletes joining N-UNI and U.S. Ski Team members for this event, which shows the increasing strength and connectivity of our pipeline between the regional and national levels," said Chip Knight, the United States Ski & Snowboard Association's alpine development director.

Szwebel said the team should be competitive in Sweden and even has a chance at the prestigious Marc Hodler Trophy, awarded to the team with the best overall performance.

"We have a really strong team, really well rounded in all events, which in the past we haven't had," Szwebel said.

The FIS Alpine Junior World Championships will take place March 8-14 at the World Cup venue in Are, Sweden.