Sugarloaf Mountain Resort in Maine hosted back-to-back-to-back national championships this March as races shifted from U.S. Nationals right into U19/U21 Nationals and finished off with a bang with the U16 Nationals March 31-April 4.
The Eastern venue is infamous for providing a challenge for young ski racers, but that didn’t intimidate the batch of top juniors from all around the country. On March 31, racers had the opportunity to test their gumption with a morning super-G training run and afternoon race down Narrow Gauge. Abundant sunshine proved perfect for the high-speed race.
All three regions were represented on the podium in the women’s super-G. Olivia Holm of Stratton Mountain School (SMS) won by almost a half second as Katie Holm of Crystal Mountain Alpine Club finished in second, 0.48 seconds off the winning pace. Ainsley Proffit of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV) rounded out the podium in third.
Rocky/Central swept the super-G podium on the men’s side with Buck Hill’s Isaiah Nelson, SSCV’s Kellen Kinsella, and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s (SSWSC) Noah Riemenschneider finishing first, second, and third, respectively.
The weather gods were less friendly for the slalom race on Sunday, as a chunky layer of snow made for fairly bumpy and rough course conditions. The challenge was high and, for Kinsella, a one-second victory over Green Mountain Valley School’s (GMVS) Moro Bamber proved no small feat. Kinsella’s teammate Henry Heaydon completed the podium in third.
In the women’s slalom, SSCV’s Reece Bell laid down a stellar first run but didn’t have much breathing room as Park City Ski Team’s Brynn Hitchcock and Northwood School’s Sarah Bennett were only hundredths behind her. Even still, Bell nailed her second run and held onto first with Hitchcock and Bennett finishing second and third, respectively.
With another turn of the weather, the sun was out again on Monday (April 3) for the GS races. Not only did Nelson take the title for the men’s super-G, he also grabbed the men’s GS title. Kinsella also continued his stellar weekend, taking second place in the GS, while Ogden Valley Winter Sports Foundation’s J Bridger Harrison swiped third, pushing Max Miller of the Park City Ski Team off the podium by only 0.05 seconds.
Kellen Kinsella’s slalom victory and two second-place finishes earned him the U16 National Championship overall title. Isaiah Nelson’s incredible performances in the super-G and GS (he didn’t finish the first run in slalom) placed him as runner-up for the overall, and J Bridger Harrison finished third.
“We’re really proud of him for his performance out there,” says Nelson’s coach Jacob Olsen. “We love to see a kid who comes from a 300-foot vertical hill [Buck Hill] training primarily slalom who can also make incredible super-G, slalom and GS turns. He’s got a great touch on his skis!”
Olivia Holm was once again the frontrunner in the women’s GS with a nearly two-second lead on Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Allison Rathfon. Zoe Zimmerman of Burke Mountain Academy (BMA) raced a fast second run, but didn’t quite have the first-run results for the top steps of the podium. Still, she was able to earn a third-place medal.
Holm took the overall title for the women with her significant win in the GS, making her a true standout. Proffit’s super-G podium combined with a seventh-place finish in slalom and 11th-place finish in GS gave her the consistent results necessary for second place overall. Rathfon banked her second place in the GS and strong super-G result to finish third overall despite failing to finish the slalom.
“It was exciting to see Olivia (Holm) continue to build on and improve her skiing throughout the season,” says SMS Alpine Director Mike Morin. “Her second place in Folgaria, Italy, this winter really gave her the confidence to move her skiing forward. As she prepared for Sugarloaf, she continued to ski better and better right up to the events. Winning the GS, super-G and overall were awesome for her and validate all of her hard work up to that point. Stratton Mountain School is so proud of her accomplishment.”
Beyond the racing, a SkillsQuest day was incorporated into the U16 Nationals program to reinforce the importance of fundamental development for younger athletes. As many racers in local ski clubs have come to understand, SkillsQuest is a program that evaluates and scores athletes’ skiing technique on the basis that fundamental skill development can lead to better ski racing. At U16 Nationals, athletes spent an entire morning divided into random groups running SkillsQuest drills and comparing their scores to those of their peers.
“We are trying to do SkillsQuest nationally and get the U12s and U14s even more exposed to the program,” says Rocky/Central Regional Development Director Darlene Nolting. “By incorporating [SkillsQuest] into the U16 Nationals program, they (and their coaches) can walk away with long-term teaching tools.”
For USSA, it’s been a five-year process with an initial effort to gain the interest of clubs in the program on a national level. By dedicating an entire day to the fundamentals found in the SkillsQuest program, USSA is able to teach and reinforce movement patterns that athletes and coaches can bring back to their home hills and eventually return to Nationals with in subsequent seasons.
Speaking in regards to the entire event, USSA Alpine Development Director Chip Knight emphasized the importance of the U16 National Championships in the development pipeline.
“It’s tremendous to bring 105 U14 and U16 athletes from 32 different clubs together on a national scale,” says Knight. “Everyone plugs into one of the three regional programs, and there is a wonderful display of teamwork and collaboration as the athletes vie for a national championship.”
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly identified the overall champions from this event which subsequently have been amended.