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Ups and downs

Ryan Slabaugh
Vail Mountain School's Juli Littman saw breakthroughs both personally and as a ski racer.
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Here’s a good story about a great ski racer.

Juli Littman, a top ability-level athlete from Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, walked into a Dec. 18 super-G at Winter Park with new skis and came face-to-face with a field that included the U.S. Development Team. It had been a year since her breakthrough, when she came from 44th to first in Steamboat at a Rocky/Central International Federation of Skiing (FIS) race. Her FIS points plummeted, which was good. She continued the success through the Junior Olympics, where she won the slalom competition, and the beginning of this season, when Littman won an early slalom at Winter Park.

So she had the year-old confidence for the super-G, and now she had new skis, which were waxed and ready. Starting third, she put up an early time that held. It was more than a win. It was a sign of things to come.

“The skis were really fast,” said Littman, a senior at Vail Mountain School. “It kind of surprised me.”

Head women’s ability coach, Ethan Beck, watched members of the U.S. team walk away shaking their heads. However, he might have been the least surprised.

“I think they were expecting to show up and win,” Beck said. “They skied well but, the difference was, Juli showed up to race. The Development Team skied well, but Juli raced well.”

Enter Littman to center stage, for another super-G Dec. 19. Same hill, different course. She drew the same number, started third and beat the field again. Two wins in two days.

“I took some chances,” she said.

Already, it was obvious Littman was having a breakthrough. Winning ski races is not like winning at cards – it takes the best technique and the willingness to turn those skis flat as soon as possible around the turns – but if she had been in a card game, she’d have been holding a pair of aces.

In the next four days, Littman would be running races against a field of University of Colorado and University of Denver, among other collegiate athletes, every day on her home course.

On Dec. 20, she didn’t get that third ace.

Littman stood in second place after the first giant-slalom run, but after making a mistake before the flat section, the bigger, deeper field passed her by. On Dec. 21, Littman made another mistake on the second run of a giant slalom and the next day, she blew out on the first slalom run.

“She was definitely getting frustrated,” Beck said. “But she knew what she needed and wanted.”

Enter Littman from off stage, on Dec. 23, for the last day of racing. An up-and-down slalom course awaited her again and, after the first run, she finished fourth. At the top stood U.S. Development Team stud Katie Hitchcock, who held a comfortable lead. Starting 27th in the second run, with Hitchcock still yet to go, Littman took off on her skis: “I felt pretty solid,” she said. “But I wasn’t sure.”

Nobody was sure, not with Hitchcock still to go. The 28th racer went, and was slower. Same with the 29th. Then, Hitchcock fell on her run and, for the third time in six days, Littman took the top spot on the podium.

“I was ready to do something,” Littman said. “I’ve been back and forth with (the Development Team). Last year was really the turning point in my career. My confidence, in every way, was raising.”

And, on the seventh day, Littman rested. Meanwhile, her coach was trying to find her better competition. Littman raced in the slalom races in Steamboat (the same event where she made the huge jump into first), she headed to Quebec Jan. 1 for a pair of NORAM races.

“The people she needs to race against were there,” Beck said. “I think these wins changed her approach in general. As a result of that, she’s starting to work harder. It made me realize she needs to put herself in the mix.”

The ticket to the mix? Three wins in six days, a streak that started on a pair of new skis and with some year-old confidence.


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