It’s that time of year again. Championships are on the line and emotions run high each spring as the best junior racers in the country meet to decide who is top dog at the FIS and U16 levels. This year’s championship events both took place in the Western Region as Sun Valley, Idaho, played host to the National Junior Championships held the week after U.S. Alpine Championships and Mission Ridge, Washington, was where U16 titles were decided the following weekend.
“Both Junior Nationals and U16 Nationals were huge successes for bringing our best young athletes together for head-to-head competition,” said U.S. Ski & Snowboard Alpine Development Director Chip Knight. “The more our top-level athletes compete with their peers across the country, the more they are pushed to raise their level, which in turn elevates the whole country.”
After an action-packed week of racing at U.S. Alpine Championships last month, the junior field stuck around and raced for super-G, giant slalom, and slalom titles March 28-30 in Sun Valley.
In the opening super-G races, the familiar faces of U.S. Ski Team athletes River Radamus and AJ Hurt took top honors in the men’s and women’s races, respectively.
Radamus, who is also the reigning Ski Racing Media Junior of the Year, has enjoyed a stellar year as a whole, taking the NorAm overall title, making his World Cup debut, and winning a super-G silver at this year’s World Junior Championships in Davos, Switzerland.
“In your career you’re bound to have a couple of breakout seasons and this was definitely one of them,” Radamus told the Vail Daily. “I didn’t have any goal that I didn’t quite meet this year.”
Following Radamus in the men’s super-G was Australia’s Louis Muhlen-Schulte in second and Jaob Dilling in third.
Hurt has been on a tear of her own this year, opening the season with a surprise NorAm win in Copper, Colorado, last November and hasn’t looked back since. After making her World Cup debut in Killington, Vermont, Hurt also secured a World Cup GS spot through her NorAm performances and took alpine combined and GS titles at U.S. Alpine Championships as well.
“It’s definitely a big deal!” Hurt shared. “I’m very excited. I think it definitely helps starting out with that good result and I was able to carry that momentum all the way through to the end of the year. I just have to keep reminding myself how that feels to ski like I have this year so I can keep it going into next year.”
After Hurt on the women’s podium was Canadian Olympian Roni Remme in second and Alex Wilkinson in third.
Men’s and women’s GS was next on the schedule as George Steffey backed up his top junior honors from U.S. Alpine Championships with a win in the men’s race, besting Radamus in second and Andrew Miller in third. The women’s race saw Wilkinson climb the top step of the podium ahead of a pair of Canadians with Stefanie Fleckenstein and Remme finishing in second and third, respectively.
The final day’s slalom racing saw Steffey once again take the win in the men’s race ahead of Tim Gavett in second and Dilling in third. Fleckenstein took the women’s race for Canada with Hurt finishing runner-up and Colby College’s Sandra Schoepke rounding out the podium in third.
“It was also tremendous to have our U.S. Ski Team athletes in attendance at the Junior Nationals at the end of a long season to set the standard and show everyone how our best young athletes perform,” added Knight, echoing the strong feelings of team unity expressed by many athletes, particularly the men’s development group, who have dubbed themselves “The Shiver,” which is the name for a collective group of sharks.
“It’s awesome,” Radamus explained of his team’s dynamic. “The Shiver has been an awesome group, really tight-knit and their whole thing is that we’re all in it together and all celebrating each other’s successes and keeping each other honest when they’re not doing their best. It’s an awesome culture and one that we’re trying to broaden throughout the entire team for sure.”
Competition at the U16 National Championships got underway on March 31 with men’s and women’s super-G in Washington state.
On the women’s side, Wester Region’s Mary Bocock took the win followed by Eastern Region’s Zoe Zimmerman in second and Rocky-Central’s Nicola Rountree-Williams in third. The men’s race saw Eastern Region pick up the podium sweep with Tanner Graves, Luke Kearing, and Daniel Gills finishing first, second, and third, respectively.
Next on the schedule for the U16s was men’s GS and women’s slalom on April 1. Ryder Sarchett took the men’s race for the West by over three seconds ahead of Kearing in second and Rocky/Central’s Cam Owens in third. Zimmerman was victorious in the women’s slalom for the East ahead of a pair of Rocky/Central athletes as Ava Sunshine Jemison and Dasha Romanov finished in second and third, respectively.
After a day of rest from racing on the second, action picked back up from Mission ridge on the third with men’s slalom and women’s GS.
Sarchett once again asserted his dominance over the men’s field, taking his second win of the series and edging out his Western Region teammate Oliver Parazette in second and Owens in third. The women’s race saw Rountree-Williams climb to the top of the podium over Wester Region’s Georgie Sullivan in second and Zimmerman grabbing her third podium in a row in third.
The final day of racing saw a dual slalom take place as Kearing took top men’s honors ahead of Max Parys in second and Nicolas Richeda in third. Rocky/Central’s Berit Frischholz was the women’s winner with Rountree-Williams and Maia Garflield in second and third, respectively.
It is Knight’s hope that the continued success of junior events like these help foster the development atmosphere envisioned by U.S. Ski & Snowboard in order to ensure increasing success at the higher levels of the sport.
“The feedback I hear from coaches and parents is better and better each year as these two events gain traction in our calendar,” Knight said. “Where and when we site them is critical, as we want to capture our best athletes at the Junior Nationals and make sure the U16 event is truly additive for young athletes at that level. I think we’re making good strides and look forward to building on these two great events going into next year.”