Twelve Juneau ski racers are competing this week in the Alaska State Alpine Skiing Championships at Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood.
The Alyeska Cup is the first of two state qualifying races for the United States Ski Association’s Junior Olympics as well as the Arctic Winter Games. Juneau’s Eaglecrest Ski Area will host the second contest later this month.
Rosemarie Alexander caught up with some of the young skiers in the noisy race room at Eaglecrest Lodge.
Seventeen year-old Peter Peel has had a lot of success so far this season. He won both the Juneau Ski Club’s slalom and giant slalom at Eaglecrest last month – but it wasn’t that long ago that he was happy just to finish a race.
“Consistency is key for me,” Peel says.
The high school senior says he worked hard during the off-season and is stronger this winter.
“You know, just putting a little more into it and I’m getting more out of it, so it’s working,” he says.
One of Peel’s ski coaches might say he’s putting less into it:
“We talked to Peter about ‘instead of trying 105 percent, knock it back to 95 and see if you finish,’ and yup, Peter’s consistently finishing,” says Coach Randy Bates.
Going into the Alyeska Cup, Bates is pleased with the Juneau skiers and their competitiveness on home snow. He says Matt Van Door is also skiing strong.
“He’s always finished races and he’s having consistent results, too. He and Peter are battling pretty good,” Bates says.
Van Dorr and Peel are the oldest junior skiers to represent Juneau. Racers ages 11 to 19 are competing at Alyeska from Juneau, Anchorage, Girdwood and Fairbanks.
Last year, Joe Greenough, of Juneau, finished first in slalom at the Alyeska Cup. He says it might be a little far-fetched, but he’s hoping to do it again.
“That would make my year, right there,” he says.
Slalom is the 15-year-old’s favorite event. “It’s just technical, it’s fast, it’s fun,” Greenough says. “You can be on the edge and still make it.”
Thirteen-year-old Gaby Hebert says she prefers giant slalom, “because you don’t have to think as much as slalom. Slalom has more gates and more turns.”
Like most of the Juneau ski team, Hebert learned the fundamentals of ski racing in Mitey Mites, for kids ages 7 to 12.
Fourteen-year-old Adrienne Audet also came up through Mitey Mites and the Development, or DeVo Team. She says she’s committed to the sport of alpine racing and has adopted Giant Slalom as her event. But Audet crashed in a recent GS race at Eaglecrest and admits she’s a little concerned as the Alyeska races begin.
“It’s actually my favorite race. But I just hope I can finish,” she says.
Bates isn’t concerned. He says the Juneau racers are prepped and ready to ski the technical and speed events, including Super G. That race is Wednesday morning.
“What an incredible year for us. The kids have had great snow. We’ve been able to get courses set. The grooming’s been impeccable from Eaglecrest,” Bates says. “There’s no shortage of gate time this year.”
The Alyeska Cup has new meaning for assistant coach Patrick Shanley. He’s now 25, and grew up racing as an Eaglecrest Race Rat, Mitey Mite, DeVo and junior.
“I’ve not been back to Alyeska since I had the big crash in 2005, when I broke my back,” Shanley says. “So I’m looking forward to standing on the top of Silver Tip again and skiing down it nice and easy and making it through without crashing.”
This is Shanley’s first year coaching; he calls it rewarding to see the young racers improve, get stronger and faster.
Ski instructor Nancy Peel says she’s relieved that son Peter’s racing is more consistent and he’s finishing races with good results. But she admits she can’t watch.
“It makes me nervous sometimes. I can’t watch the speed events, and that’s the truth,” Peel laughs. “I close my eyes.”
The Alyeska Cup continues through Sunday. Then the Anchorage, Girdwood and Fairbanks skiers come to Juneau for the Eaglecrest Cup, February 18 through 20.
The Juneau Ski Club’s youth racing program is in its 77th year.