Last week, some of the brightest young U14 and U16 racers in the United States converged on Whistler, Canada, for the annual Whistler Cup international children’s races from April 12-15.
With many current U.S. Ski Team stars cutting their teeth on the world stage at past Whistler Cups, the United States made its first appearance in six years in 2017 and built on the success of the past with strong results across both genders and age groups in 2018.
“Whistler is just an amazingly big place,” said Eastern Region Youth Development Coach and U16 lead Kathy Okoniewski. “It’s a beautiful village with all the festivities and the Whistler Cup organizers make it like a little mini Olympics or mini World Cup; it’s pretty cool.”
The common theme that arose from the event for the Americans was one of team unity and pride in representing their country on an international stage.
“There’s something about exposure to that international world, the other athletes coming from different countries,” Okoniewski continued. “I think the kids recognized the fact that the world is a bigger place than just their division or their region or their country.”
“As a group, we were quick to establish that culture of a team environment even though the kids have never seen each other other than a three-day series to qualify,” added U14 lead coach and Rowmark Junior Program Director Troy Price. “As a staff, we quickly came up with the goals of building that environment and letting the kids absorb all of the flair to the event yet keep them in a clear mindset on the race itself. It’s just another ski race and if they ski to their abilities, they’ll be competitive.”
And competitive they were. In all, the American contingent took home 21 top-15 results, two golds, two silvers, as well as the victory in the U16 mixed-gender team event, lifting the Americans to second place in the final nation’s rankings.
“The stars aligned on that last day to make everything go so well,” Okoniewski said of the team event. “The kids were incredibly focused and incredibly relaxed and they saw the finish. The message from me and the staff was, ‘You are winning this.’ We took the doubt out for them by giving them that message, kept them hydrated and fueled and they just executed and it was really incredible.”
In addition to the team event win, U16 and Ketchum, Idaho, native Ryder Sarchett took home a gold medal in the men’s giant slalom and a silver in the super-G.
“He just loves to ski,” said Okoniewski. “He took seven runs, almost top to bottoms runs, before his first run of GS. He came right back up, inspected, and then we don’t actually know how many more runs he took before his second run of GS. He not only raced and won in some very snowy conditions, he just skied.”
The U14s were no slouches, either, as another Sun Valley athlete, Jessica Blackburn, won the women’s slalom by an incredible 3.62 seconds for the first women’s slalom gold since Mikaela Shiffrin’s win in 2009. Also, first-year U14 and Alaska native Finnigan Donely powered his way through 10 runs of dual slalom to take second place in the men’s parallel event.
“It was remarkable and the crossover between the U14s and U16s while we were at the event was also an amazing experience for the kids to see their peer group,” Price said. “Between the two groups we definitely killed it; it was fun.”
Both Okoniewski and Price agree that the exposure and experience gained from attending international events at this age are invaluable, not only for the athletes attending but also for all of the athletes at their home clubs and regions that now have an international benchmark to measure their own progress against.
2018 WHISTLER CUP U16 TEAM
Name, Hometown; Club (Birthdate)
Justin Bigatel, Park City, UT; Park City Ski & Snowboard (4/29/2003)
Mary Bocock, Salt Lake City, UT; Rowmark Ski Academy (10/7/2003)
Aidan Robin, Stowe, VT; Burke Mountain Academy (4/2/2003)
Dasha Romanov, Thorton, CO; Loveland Ski Club (5/3/2003)
Ryder Sarchett, Ketchum, ID; Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (7/28/2003)
Isabelle Washburn, Steamboat, CO; Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (1/7/2003)
Ben Brown, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club
Kathy Okoniewski, Eastern Youth Development Coach
Gunner Sorenson, Loveland Ski Club
Angela Worrell, Rocky Central Youth Development Coach
2018 WHISTLER CUP U14 TEAM
Name, Hometown; Club (Birthdate)
Jack Abuhaidar, Park City, UT; Rowmark Ski Academy (2/13/2004)
Kacey Benjaminson, Tahoe City, CA; Squaw Valley Ski Team (8/17/2004)
Jessica Blackburn, Ketchum, ID; Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (4/9/2004)
Levi Brown, Lake Oswego, OR; Mt. Hood Academy (2/4/2004)
Dillon Bush, Park City, UT; Park City Ski Team (6/13/2004)
Paige Dehard, Hailey, ID; Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (4/25/2005)
Finnigan Donley, Anchorage, AK; Alyeska Ski Club (2/28/2005)
Annaliese Frohlich, Mercer Island, WA; Crystal Mountain Ski Club (11/14/2004)
Nils Galloway, Snoqualmie, WA; Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (9/8/2004)
Saba Grossman, Sun Valley, ID; Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (5/24/2004)
Colin Hanna, Portland, OR; Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (12/15/2004)
Logan Lindstrom, Sun Valley, ID; Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (4/9/2004)
Bill Hudson, Squaw Valley Ski Team
Karen Lundegren, Mt. Hood Academy
Troy Price, Rowmark Ski Academy
James Tautkus, Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation
Complete results from Whistler Cup are available here.