Vail skiers struggle at national super-G
Vail, CO Colorado
WINTER PARK – The Vail Valley was well-represented on Saturday’s start list at the U.S. Alpine Championships, held in Colorado for the first time in nearly two decades.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as well represented at the finish line, with four of the six Vail athletes skiing out of the Winter Park super-G course. Sarah Schleper was the top local finisher, taking sixth. Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Taylor Rapley was 11th.
To their credit, DNF was the story of the day for nearly 40 percent of the women’s field and a good-sized chunk of the men’s. A tricky, technical section coming over the final pitch threw both Abby and Erika Ghent for a loop and out of the racecourse. Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Greta Byrne and Will Gregorak also did not finish.
The conditions were warm and the snow was heavy and wet, which many racers said made it difficult to recover after mistakes, most of which were made on the bottom part of the course.
No. 13 on lucky skis
Julia Mancuso got two wins in as many days, extending her U.S. title record to 13. She said the cranky corner section that threw many of the girls out was really tough.
“It was important to just do the best you can with the hill. It was difficult. I felt like I slowed down a lot going through that section but made it to the finish,” Mancuso said. “The hill here is just really narrow and short and technical.”
New Hampshire’s Leanne Smith was second followed by Mammoth (Calif.)’s Stacey Cook, who got her second podium of the weekend. Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s Katie Ryan finished ninth overall, taking top junior honors.
Although Mancuso hails from Squaw Valley, Calif., there was a significant Vail Valley element joining her atop the podium Friday and Saturday. Todd Rash, a Volkl ski tech from Edwards, has been prepping her skis for weeks. He said it’s been a lot of work and many long nights.
“We just got the skis from Europe shipped over kind of late,” Rash said. “So it was a lot of waxing, not so much edge work. With this warm weather, it’s not necessarily a wax race, but it’s definitely a very important factor.”
The skis are new, but the design is not. Mancuso upgraded to a men’s length ski in the middle of the season – a trend originally set by Lindsey Vonn, who is notably absent from the weekend’s competition.
Rash said there has been a lot of research and development this season with Mancuso switching over to Volkl, and by next season that transition should be complete after some more extensive testing in Mammoth.
Schleper at speed
Vail native Schleper said she was happy with her sixth-place finish, considering it was her first speed event since the 2010 nationals, one year ago.
“I think I could have gone faster, for sure, but it’s hard to do it on your first run down,” she said. “It was so much fun. It’s such a cool feeling to be on the length of the long boards. It makes me want to run some more speed.”
It’s generally not beneficial to run towards the back of the pack, but Schleper’s 31st start position may have been an asset, because she had a little more time to get a solid course report and watch the lower, cranky section that gave so many of the other girls trouble.
“I set that up pretty good,” she said. “There were tons of reports coming in, and I watched the first five girls or so. I knew you had to set that up.”
Schleper definitely has her eyes set on Sunday’s race – the slalom, of which she is a four-time national champion.
Double the Ghent
Erika Ghent, 22, skis for the University of Colorado. Abby Ghent, 20, skis for the U.S. Ski Team. They both grew up in the valley skiing for SSCV.
In Saturday’s super-G, the sisters were only separated by three spots on the start list. So there wasn’t enough time for them to communicate after Abby’s run. They wound up making a similar mistake through the tricky narrow section above the last pitch.
“It was just a really difficult turn,” Abby Ghent said. “We had a lot of speed going into it, and it was just really hard getting it around. It was a huge change in direction. There are always those turns, especially on a hill like this, that you have to try and make. But it just seemed a little more difficult than usual today.”
For older sis, Erika, the super-G was especially tough. Being on the college circuit, which only includes GS and slalom, she doesn’t get nearly as much time training for and racing speed events. Look for her to race in Sunday’s slalom, while Abby is planning to take the day off from racing.
Gregorak slips out early; Ford wins
SSCV’s Gregorak had a solid fifth starting position in the super-G, however fighting a chest cold, he wasn’t able to hang in the course for very long.
“I got pretty late. It was an early exit – might as well have stayed in bed today,” Gregorak said. “Hopefully, it will be better tomorrow. I’ve been fighting sickness, but I felt a little better today. Hopefully tomorrow I can execute a lot better.”
The U.S. Ski Team’s Tommy Ford narrowly captured his second U.S. title in three days, for a career total of five. Ford closed the 2010 season with U.S. championships in GS, slalom and super combined and has now captured the 2011 crowns for giant slalom and super G.
“Another soft day and it was still a turny set which suits me a little more,” Ford said. “Running first is a huge advantage, so I took advantage of it and skied well and tried to work the skis a little bit into the soft snow and try to have some fun too.”
NorAm overall champion Tommy Biesemeyer was second followed by NorAm super G winner Ryan Cochran-Siegle.
The U.S. Alpine Championships resume Sunday with both the men’s and women’s slalom.