March 28, 2007
GIRDWOOD, Alaska (March 28) - The calendar may say Spring but race course conditions are still mid-Winter at Alyeska Resort as the Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships get underway for the second time in four years. New champions will be crowned in at least two events.
Versus will broadcast coverage from Alyeska at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 7.
Bode Miller (Bretton Woods, NH), with eight, is one national championship behind two skiers (Dick Durrance and Tiger Shaw) for the men's record while Olympic champion Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) has won two gold medals at each of the last two U.S. championships. Among the women, Olympic giant slalom gold medalist Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA) comes in with a streak of being on the podium 15 times in the last 16 U.S. championships races and has won seven titles.
The new champions will be determined in at least women's downhill and men's super G. Three-time Olympian Kirsten Clark (Raymond, ME), the only American to win four consecutive U.S. DH gold medals, announced her retirement and said Monday she would not be able to compete following a nasty training crash in Switzerland at World Cup Finals. Daron Rahlves, the most successful U.S. men's racer (12 DH/SG victories) retired after winning his super G title last year, leaving with a victory in the final run of his much-decorated career.
Five days of racing
Following Thursday's annual FIS Downhill, which is designed on the eve of the championships to get U.S. skiers an extra DH involving the U.S. Ski Team's top speed skiers, the championships open Friday with the downhill. The schedule:
Friday - men's and women's downhill
Saturday - men's and women's super G
Sunday - men's and women's slalom
Monday - women's giant slalom
Tuesday - men's giant slalom
Steven Nyman (Provo, UT), who had a breakthrough World Cup season - including his first podium and then his first victory (in downhill in Val Gardena, Italy), is after his third downhill championship. He won the 2003 U.S. DH title at New York's Whiteface Mountain, near Lake Placid, and again in '05 at Mammoth Mountain, CA. He finished second Tuesday to NorAm downhill champion Erik Fisher (Middleton, ID) in the opening DH training run.
"There's so much snow. It feels like winter. We can go ski and have fun," Nyman said. "The downhill course is awesome. It's a good downhill - big jumps, good terrain, demanding technical sections. It will be a good race."
Libby Ludlow (Bellevue, WA), who led the women's opening training run, echoed Nyman. "It's got a little bit of everything. It's not too fast or too difficult," she said, "but there are some technical sections. It flows really well and there are some great jumps. All in all, it's awesome to be here and it's so much fun to be skiing on such an awesome hill."
Mid-winter snow conditions
World Cup veteran JJ Johnson (Park City, UT) pointed to the challenges of the speed run. "It's longer than most championship downhills. It's got a lot more terrain and it's a lot of fun," he said. "The snow was really nice today - cold snow...winter snow. They have a bunch of rolls in the middle. It's got a little bit of everything..."
Recent snows have pumped up the snow pack at Alyeska, and snow depths at mid-mountain and the summit are just under 10 feet, more than four feet at the base of the mountain.
The championships bring together the top skiers in the nation, most of them just back from the World Cup season in Europe, as well as aspiring World Cup and Olympic alpine racers from across the country. Some come into the championships after racing at the Canadian nationals in Whistler, B.C., over the last week where Fisher was bronze medalist in that super G while Tim Jitloff (Reno, NV) was bronze medalist in the GS.
The Nature Valley championships are "a big step, a rite of passage for skiers who want to be on the nnational team," Men's Head Coach Phil McNichol said. "We don't get to see these development-level skiers very much, so they can make a strong impression on the national coaches, men and women, by what they do here."