Schleper and Ackerman qualify for Topolino Games |

Schleper and Ackerman qualify for Topolino Games

Ian Cropp
Special to the DailyFrom left to right are Ski and Snowboard Club Vail's Bruce Knoepfel (coach), Hunter Schleper, Delainey Ackerman and Ted Lockwood (coach).

WINTER PARK – Hunter Schleper and Delainey Ackerman are headed back to Italy. By winning the Rocky/Central Topolino J3 (13-14 years-old) time trials last week in Winter Park, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Schleper and Ackerman qualified for the Topolino Children’s Games in Italy February.Schleper, who qualified for the games last year and placed seventh, has already accomplished one of his goals for this year in qualifying again.”I had it down at beginning of season to make it (to Topolino Games) and place top-three there,” Schleper said.And Ackerman is happy to go to Italy once again, but this time to ski.”I went to two summers ago with my family on a trip,” said Ackerman, who lives in Denver, but stays with her grandmother during the winter to train in Vail.”I couldn’t believe (I won). I never really expected to go because I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high.”Bruce Knoepfel, one of the three coaches at SSCV who work with both skiers, said the games at Topolino feature some of the world’s best junior skiers.”About 45 countries compete in the race,” Knoepfel said. “It’s a very selective field because you have the top skiers from each country. There is a quota of only six (American) racers.”

The race in Winter Park featured one day of giant slalom and one day of slalom. Racers took three runs each day, and their best times from each day were combined to determine the winner.Both Ackerman and Schleper held leads after the first day in GS.”On the first two training days (Tuesday and Wednesday) I was skiing pretty good,” Ackerman said. “I was one-tenth of a second behind some people. On Thursday, I went down the first run and was in lead, and I thought, ‘Wow, it’s actually possible.’ I went back for my other two GS runs, finished in second and second, and was still first overall.”Ackerman’s third-place finish in slalom was good enough for her to retain the overall victory by 0.08 seconds.Looking to defend his title, Schleper entered the contest with a wealth of experience.”I knew I could make it back,” Schleper said. “After my first GS run, I wasn’t too happy because I was two-tenths of a second out of first.”On Schleper’s second run, however, he sprung into the lead by shaving four-tenths of a second off his first run. Taking the lead into his stronger event, slalom, he pulled away from the competition.Although Schleper’s first slalom run was good enough to put almost a full second-and-a-half gap between him and the closest competitor, he wasn’t done. He gained one-hundredth of a second on his second run.”It feels really good to qualify two years in a row,” Schleper said. “I was doing what I’ve been doing all season – going all-out on every run.”SSCV had a race-high nine athletes competing in Winter Park. Whitney Setterberg came into the final day in second place and finished fifth overall, while Jocelyn Irwin put down the second-fastest slalom race to grab a fourth-place finish.

Training timeAs they have been doing since snow has been on the ground, both skiers will continue to train hard for the rest of the year.”They ski six days a week,” said Knoepfel, who has coached Schleper for eight years and Ackerman for five. “Hunter has a high level of natural skill and incredible level of commitment. Delainey has great natural athleticism, incredible determination and is driven to excel.”Even before there was snow in Colorado, Schleper hit the slopes in Austria for six weeks this fall while attending a racing camp. Last summer, Ackerman went to France for two weeks to ski.Fortunately for the skiers, their coaches (Knoepfel, Brett Donaldson and Ted Lockwood) are just as committed.”They are up with us on the hill all the time,” said Schleper. “They do it in the mornings when they don’t get paid to.” Ackerman, who goes to Colorado Academy when she’s not in Vail, attends the Vail Valley Academy when she’s training in Vail.”It’s hard to get all your homework done and take care of your skiing,” Ackerman said.Last year, Schleper skied in Mount Hood, Ore., and now that he’s back in Vail, he’s taking classes on the Internet, he said.

Italy and beyondNot only do Schleper and Ackerman get to compete in the Topolino games in Italy, but they also get an automatic bid to this year’s Junior Olympics, which should free up training time.”I don’t have to go to races that help you qualify for the Junior Olympics,” Ackerman said. “So now, I can go to different races that will help me for next year.”The Junior Olympics, which will be held at Vail in March, will feature the region’s best skiers.”Our ultimate objective is to have the skiers as fast as we can for the Junior Olympics,” Knoepfel said.And somewhere down the line, Knoepfel thinks Schleper may want to be competing in the World Cup.”He’s always had goals of skiing on the World Cup because of his sister (Sarah) and his family values,” Ackerman said. “It’s not something that he can’t reach out and touch.”Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14631, or, Colorado

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