Leever stops by, dominates GS at Golden Peak in Vail
VAIL — The World Cup may have left town, but the local venues are still hosting high level ski racing.
International Ski Federation races took place during the weekend at Golden Peak, with athletes visiting from all across the U.S. in a college season preview of sorts that was originally expected to be a showcase of mostly high school age athletes.
Being an FIS race, however, it was open to whomever met the International Ski Federation criteria, and athletes such as Ola Johansen, 24, and Alex Leever, 22, stopped by and increased the competition by a margin.
Ski & Snowboard Club Vail hosted the races, which included a pair of slaloms on Friday, Dec. 8, a giant slalom on Saturday, Dec. 9, and another giant slalom on Sunday, Dec. 10.
Johansen won both slaloms, and Leever then won Saturday’s giant slalom by 1.67 seconds.
“There’s good competition here in Vail and a good slope,” Johansen said.
Johansen is originally from Norway and is now a student athlete at the University of Colorado, where he is a member of the ski team. Leever attends Denver University. There were also athletes from several other colleges as well as FIS racers from around the country.
Max Lamb, with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, said following the Birds of Prey races, many ski racers have been taking to the area in seek of a good practice venue.
“A lot of these guys got to train at Beaver Creek the day after the races,” Lamb said. “We trained on Birds GS with a national group, everybody from Alaska to Maine and in between.”
Following the Birds of Prey training, the FIS-level racers made their way over to Golden Peak in Vail.
“We made a really big push over the last three weeks, building and helping out with Birds of Prey while getting our own venue ready,” Lamb said Sunday. “We were able to get a really good surface which people from around the nation are appreciating.”
The FIS racing that started on Friday was expected to be mainly for athletes in the under-19 National Performance Series — a pipeline into the U.S. Ski Team’s development system — but given the good training that’s been had on Golden Peak recently, it was no surprise to see collegiate-level athletes show up to take on the Golden Peak track.
“Originally they said there’s these races in Vail and we’d like to have a few DU athletes come up,” Leever said. “We got there and it ended up being a little higher caliber than we were expecting.”
COLLEGE AND WORLD CUP
Leever is from Vail and came through the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail program. He knows the slope well at Golden Peak, but the giant slalom isn’t usually his discipline. New rules in the giant slalom, however, in which skis with a shorter radius are now being used, has played to Leever’s favor, he suspects.
Leever skipped Sunday’s races to try his hand at North America Cup competition, which is a level up from FIS races. He traveled to Canada on Sunday and plans to spend all this week racing at the slalom and giant slalom races, which are happening in Panorama, British Columbia, through Saturday, Dec. 16.
Being a senior at Denver University, Leever has been questioning what his future may look like in ski racing. Impressive performances such as the one he put together on Saturday on the new giant slalom skis have him feeling good.
“I told myself that I didn’t want to make any decisions until I see how the season goes,” Leever said on Sunday. “So far I’ve been really encouraged with how it’s going and I’m excited to keep trying to send it.”
At the World Cup giant slalom on Dec. 3 in Beaver Creek, three Denver University alumnus finished in the top 30, making it to the second run and scoring World Cup points. Leever cites those athletes as examples of ski racers who have found World Cup success after racing at the college level.
“I think back in the day there was a stigma that if you went to college you were giving up on skiing competitively, like it was the easy way out,” Leever said. “But I think nowadays it’s a totally different narrative, there’s a plethora of different skiers who have come through the college ranks who are skiing World Cup now.”
Leever said if he’s able to keep skiing the way he skied in Vail on Saturday, “maybe I’ll ski well at the Nor-Ams this year and college races and then give it my all and try to make World Cup over the next few years.”
Leith raced through foggy conditions to a photo finish for second place, and ended up third.