Junior Championships hit Vail this week
JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIPS SCHEDULE
Monday — Downhill, starts at 10:15 a.m. at Golden Peak
Tuesday — Boys Super-G and super combined, starts at 10:15 a.m. at Golden Peak
Wednesday — Girls super-G and super combined, starts at 10:15 a.m. at Golden Peak
Thursday — Giant slalom, starts at 9:30 a.m. at Golden Peak
Friday — Slalom, starts at 9:30 a.m. at Bear Trap on Beaver Creek
VAIL — When the Burton U.S. Open jumps came down at Golden Peak, it wasn’t to prevent you from hitting them. There is ski racing already underway at the venue; Junior Championships downhill training started exactly one week after the Burton U.S. Open ended.
The actual Junior Championships competition starts today, with athletes ages 14 and 15 visiting from across the Midwest and Rocky Mountain regions of the country to make an attempt at qualifying for nationals. For many of these athletes, the Golden Peak venue will be the nicest track they ski on this year, and possibly ever.
“For a lot of kids, this is the big climax of their ski racing careers,” said Rob Worrell with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. “This event will be a big decision point for them. A lot of them who are skiing fast will go on to ski at the (International Ski Federation) level, and for other kids, there’s only a couple of years left in high school for them and they may decide they’re not ready to commit and sacrifice their whole lives for ski racing.”
TRACK TO THE TOP
For kids who intend to take the sport to the next level, the Junior Championships in Vail will determine who goes to the National Championships in Maine next month. The National Championships will then determine who participates in the U.S. Ski Team’s National Performance Series next year. The National Performance Series will determine which athletes compete in the biggest international event in junior ski racing, the Seven Nations Cup. The top 11 boys and girls at the Vail Junior Championships will qualify for the National Championships.
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“There’s a lot hinging on these races,” Worrell said.
In addition to making it to the National Championships event, the Junior Championships represent a chance for local Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athletes to show the nation how deep their program goes.
“If you look at our history of results at the (14- and 15-year-old) level, we’ve dominated over the last four or five years,” Worrell said. “And I haven’t seen any indications that that’s going to change this year.”
This year, more than half of the kids on the Seven Nations Cup team hailed from Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. In addition to participating in the event, a selection of those kids also got a chance to participate in the Squaw Valley World Cup during the weekend.
“They’ll get to fore-run the women’s World Cup at Squaw,” Worrell said on Friday. “They’ll miss the (Vail Junior Championships) speed events, but they’ll be back in town for the tech events on Thursday and Friday.”
The giant slalom will take place at Golden Peak on Thursday and a slalom is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Friday at Beaver Creek.
RARE GOLDEN PEAK DOWNHILL
Being on home snow has obvious advantages when it comes to performing well at the Junior Championships. Ski & Snowboard Club Vail puts a lot of time and effort into getting the track ready, but for the leg up it gives local athletes it’s more than worth it, said Worrell.
“It saves the kids money in travel expenses and they get to sleep in their own beds,” Worrell said. “It’s a huge savings to be at home all week, plus being on home snow is a big advantage … it’s great that the club has the resources, along with Vail Resorts, to put an event like this on.”
While local racers are very familiar with the Golden Peak track, even the most seasoned young competitors don’t get many opportunities to race a full length downhill at the Vail venue.
“With the Main Arena closed for much of the season, they only do about eight downhill racing days per year, including training, at Golden Peak,” Worrell said. “So it’s definitely a rare deal, for anyone in the world, really. It’s not that easy to take a whole trail up with a downhill course. When all that net is up and the hill is prepared, it’s definitely a highlight of their season.”
In getting the downhill track ready, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail put in more than 450 man hours during the last week.
“Vail Resorts, with their cat operators, wiped out the U.S. Open and got it ready for ski racing in about three and a half days,” said C.B. Bechtel, Director of Operations with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. “Getting a downhill ready is above and beyond what we’re used to … From noon to 5 p.m. every day this week, we had 20 or more staff members out there putting up A netting.”
The A netting which runs along a downhill track is the major safety feature preventing athletes from tumbling into trees or hazards lining the sides of runs. For spectators, when you see A netting on a course, it’s usually an indication a serious race is taking place, said Bechtel.
“This is the only event we put A netting up on Golden Peak for,” he said.
Interested fans of the sport can see the action from the bottom of Golden Peak throughout the week, but for today’s downhill, a trip up Chair 6 at the right time will give you a bird’s eye view of the action.
“They’ll be flying over 90 or 100 feet off the jump on (the section of the track called New Cut),” Worrell said. “They’ll head into it about 65 mph and rip right into the New Cut jump. It will be awesome to see.”
For more information, visit www.sscvevents.wixsite.com/vailjuniorchamps.