Vail’s Gregorak, Ghent place at national DH |

Vail’s Gregorak, Ghent place at national DH

Eric Schramm

ASPEN – In his first appearance at nationals, Will Gregorak finished dead last. He was 61st, but two guys did end up as DNFs in that downhill on March, 30, 2007 and Alyeska, Alaska.

The DNFs apparently didn’t make Gregorak feel any better.

“I was not happy about that at the time,” Gregorak said.

A little less than four year later, things are definitely looking better for Gregorak. The Ski and Snowboard Club Vail racer took second in Wednesday’s United States Alpine Championships downhill in Aspen, while SSCV’s Abby Ghent was third among the women.

Canada’s Dustin Cook topped the men’s field with a time of 1 minute 12.40 seconds with Gregorak being the top American, just 2-hundredths back. Erik Fisher was third at 1:12.43.

“It’s really cool,” Gregorak said. “I was glad I could put down a good run. I’ve been struggling the last few days here. I was psyched when I found out that I was second. The 2-hundredths are a little bittersweet, but it’s a good day.”

Ghent’s time of 1:15.37 was topped only by fellow Americans Julia Ford (1:14.15) and Kiley Staples (1:15.03).

Yes, most fans of skiing are focused on Garmisch, Germany, where Worlds continue with the women’s giant slalom. But doing well at events like nationals is a way to get there.

Vail’s Sarah Schleper, who competes in today’s GS in Germany, started her nationals career, which includes five titles, with a DNF in giant slalom. (Still trying to make Gregorak feel better.) Nationals were also a big part of Schelper’s comeback after a two-year absence, when she finished second in GS in 2009ahead of some lady named Lindsey Vonn.

“First of all, it lowers your points, so I’ll get better start positions in downhill,” Ghent said. “It puts me more on the radar. It’s still going to be a struggle. By no means, does this get me where I want to go.”


Both Gregorak, 20, and Ghent, 18, have the World Cup at the top of their to-do list. Gregorak has started four World Cups, including a home stop at Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey last December, and has yet to qualify for a second run.

Like a lot of young skiers, he’s searching for the consistency that can help him make his case to move up from the ranks of the U.S. squad’s C-Team. Ironically, he’s considered more of a technical skier, so Wednesday’s silver in downhill gives the American staff another light in which to view him.

Gregorak’s previous best this season was taking second in a Europa Cup slalom in Obereggen, Italy, on Dec. 15. He hadn’t trained on downhill skis until he got to Aspen this week for a couple of Nor-Ams – he finished sixth and 10th – and was still recovering from a hip injury from a crash in Switzerland.

What’s interesting is to track how some well known names in American skiing have done at nationals. Schleper’s five titles have come in GS and slalom, which is no surprise.

Vonn has never won a national title in the downhill, through she has three second-place finishes (2000, 2003 and 2008). She has, however, won four golds in nationals, including three in slalom. (She has 20 World Cup wins in downhill, not to mention Worlds and Olympic golds in that discipline, and only two wins in slalom on tour. Go figure.)

Bode Miller, who has overall World Cup globes from 2005 and 2008, started more as a tech skier and his first two national titles came in GS (1998) and slalom (2002). Ted Ligety, who is now Mr. GS, started his nationals career by finishing 32nd in the 2003 downhill in Whiteface, N.Y.

“I kind of looked at that when I was younger,” Gregorak said. “Now that I’m older, I know that there are so many variables, that you can’t judge all that. You can be a late-bloomer or you can be an early bloomer. You’ve just got to keep plugging away and not worry about anyone else.”

Gregorak will try to do that March 5-6 when he gets a call-up to the World Cup team for a giant slalom and slalom in Kranjska Gora, Slovakia.

Using Skype

The Ghent family gets around.

Abby’s older sisters Erika, 22, and Christa, 20, ski for the University of Colorado. Abby’s been hitting FIS races in Austria and Nor-Ams this season. At one point, Erika was at the World University Games in Turkey earlier this month, while Abby was in at Junior Worlds in Switzerland.

Where do you go if you’re the parents, aka Brad and Karen Ghent?

“Actually, my parents went to the beginning of the World University Games with Erika and then came over to Switzerland for World Juniors,” Abby said.

In between, Abby keeps in touch with Erika via Skype, and she justifiably has a lot to say after Wednesday. While she said she didn’t ski as well as she could have at Jr. Worlds, though she had three top-30 finishes, third at nationals is quite nice.

“I’ve been struggling a little bit this season, so it’s good to get something like this under my feet.”

As a member of the U.S. Development Team, Ghent says her goal is “to step it up in the states,” in Nor-Ams, to get some sports in Europa Cup races. While technically in Whistler, British Columbia, she will have just the opportunity to do that at the Nor-Am Finals in early March.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or

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