FIS racing wraps up in Vail, ‘to say conditions were challenging would be a major understatement’
Rocky/Central division championships began under 3 feet of snow
VAIL — Four days of International Ski Federation (FIS) level racing wrapped up on Golden Peak Sunday, and in those four days athletes saw a full range of conditions.
The event doubled as the season championship for the Rocky/Central division of ski racing in the U.S., and began Thursday on one of the worst weather days Colorado’s Interstate 70 corridor has seen this season. Vail Pass was closed, the Colorado Department of Transportation was recommending motorists avoid the roads and huge snowflakes were falling on the course at Golden Peak.
Crews were able to pull off a race nonetheless.
Just days earlier, the track had been injected with water, “and the resulting product was really excellent,” said Alpine race coordinator PJ Jenick. “But 3 feet of snow on it buried us … to say that the conditions were challenging would be a major understatement.”
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Jenick said while it was tough on race crews and course workers, it was difficult for the athletes most of all.
“Course sets at this level are never easy,” Jenick said. “You put a championship course set on a difficult hill with not perfect snow or surface conditions, and you have a big challenge.”
Ramon Torva, of Spain, said he could barely figure out where to turn during the early races.
“On Thursday, it was difficult to see two gates away,” he said.
The championship attracted top FIS-level racers from throughout the Rocky/Central division and consisted of a pair of men’s and women’s slalom races on Thursday and Friday, followed by giant slalom and slalom races on Saturday and Sunday.
Slalom racing began with a familiar face returning to the Golden Peak podium. A Ski & Snowboard Club Vail alum now skiing for Team America, Alex Leever earned a second-place finish behind Montana State University’s Garret Driller, joined on the podium by Tomas Birkner De Miguel, of Argentina.
Leever, who notched a podium at the more competitive North America Cup level earlier this season, said the snow was a lot different than he remembers from growing up in Vail.
“It definitely was not the normal hard grippy Colorado snow that we’re used to,” Leever said. “It was more survival of snow conditions rather than accelerating the whole time.”
Leever won Friday’s slalom to wrap up his week in Vail.
“An excuse to be home, I’ll never pass up on,” he said.
By participating in the FIS-level race, Lever and Driller lowered the penalty in the race by several points, providing a better opportunity for everyone else racing to improve their FIS standing.
On the women’s side, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail alumna Kaitlyn Harsch — who now skis for the University of Colorado — came in for the weekend, finishing second on Thursday, first on Friday, fourth on Saturday and second on Sunday.
HOLMS AT HOME
By the end of the event, twin brother and sister duo Fletcher and Gabriella Holm had decreased their points dramatically, improving their FIS standings by a large margin.
The 16-year-old Vail locals, enjoying their first year competing at the FIS level, were especially happy the races were able to take place. Gabriella finished fifth and sixth on Saturday and Sunday, and Fletcher had a pair of seventh place finishes.
“We were so lucky to have such a big crew of people helping out,” Fletcher said.
Gabriella said even though the snow was challenging, there’s nothing like racing at home.
“Being able to sleep in my own bed and be with my family definitely helps,” she said.
The Holms’ teammates on Ski & Snowboard Club Vail were also feeling the local advantage. Top female performers for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail on Thursday included Tegan Wold in fifth, Ava Jemison in seventh and Sabrina Sutter in ninth.
On Friday, Jemison hit the podium in third for the women’s slalom, and Ski & Snowboard Club Vail racer Henry Heaydon also finished in third in the men’s slalom.
First-year FIS racer Emma Birtwhistle finished in seventh on Friday, one of a pair of top-10 finishes the 17-year-old would claim on the weekend.
As a result, she attained something coach Will Colt thought impossible heading in.
“She went from 122 points, to cut that by more than half,” Colt said. “It’s kind of unheard of to see that kind of result.”
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.