Only two weekends of skiing and snowboarding left at Eaglecrest. The city-owned ski area will end the season on April 14.
Two races are set for this weekend: the “sometimes annual Bill Tugman Obstacle Race” for all ages and abilities, and a Juneau Ski Club costume race – and the kids don’t usually disappoint when it comes to get-ups.
Statewide competition for young racers ended last weekend with the Under-14 championships held at Eaglecrest.
Eleven-year-old Luba Wessels of Anchorage got her first taste of major competition at the U-14 races.
“I didn’t do the greatest I could, but I tried.”
And her results didn’t detract from the experience.
“I’ve never traveled for skiing before. I’ve never skied in a different place than Alyeska, or Hilltop, or Hillberg, so I liked it. It was really fun.”
Seventy skiers age 11 to 14 came to Eaglecrest to race slalom and giant slalom, sanctioned by the U. S. Ski and Snowboard Association. They train with clubs at Hilltop and Hillberg ski areas in Anchorage, the Alyeska Ski Club in Girdwood, as well as the smaller clubs in Fairbanks and Juneau.
About 210 youth belong to Hillberg Ski Club at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Bobby Stone is one of 35 coaches. He brought 15 middle-schoolers to Eaglecrest.
He says competition is important to kids as they learn a life-long winter sport.
“Oh, it just makes them grow so fast both personally, the participation, the mentorship they gain from this, the experience they gain. It’s just an all-around great event.”
The two-day championship ended with an awards ceremony for the top racers. While they’re racing for time, they’re also accumulating World Cup points—just like professionals.
Thirteen-year-old Austen Eriksson, of Soldotna, is an overall champion for the boys. He trains on weekends with the Alyeska ski team.
“This is the best I’ve done all year, so I’m really happy that it was the Alaska State Champs.”
“I just went for it, aggressive, and I really wanted it,” Eriksson says.
Sanne Cassee is an overall champion for the girls. She’s 12 and also races for the Alyeska Ski Club. She says she started skiing when she was 2-years old and has been racing since kindergarten.
She says her races turned out nearly as planned.
“There’s a couple people I just wanted to beat, and I just pushed myself.”
And that, she explains, requires a different attitude:
“Think like ‘OK, I’m going to do it.’”
The U-14 championship was the first big ski trip for many of these kids. Most said they especially like Eaglecrest’ s lack of crowds compared to their home mountain.
Bre Donovan is the head coach for the 10 to 14-year old racers at Alyeska. She grew up in the program and has been coaching for about a decade, though she thought it would be a job for a season or two.
She prefers coaching this age group.
“They still are having a ton of fun; it’s not super competitive, It’s a lot of time for them to develop their skills and make lifelong, hopefully, friendships, and our job is to really get them going for U 16s because as they age, they get more and more competitive, more training, pressure and stress.”
Juneau Olympian Hilary Lindh led Saturday’s giant slalom. It was her job as forerunner to relay information about the course to the young racers at the top.
When Lindh was growing up, youth trained in the speed events known as Super G and downhill. That’s not done much these days, but Alyeska coach Donovan says it’s time to bring it back.
“We want to have the Alaska Division known for producing more Hilary Lindh’s and Tommy Moe’s.”
Juneau Ski Club Assistant Coach Patrick Shanley was organizing poles and fencing Sunday afternoon at the end of Hilary’s run, the race course named after Hilary Lindh. It was easy to spot Shanley’ s satisfied look. Several of his racers were in the top five for their age group, and those who weren’t still had smiles.
Shanley has skied at Eaglecrest since he was a tot, and grew up racing. Now he’s motivated by the kids he works with.
“They have me up here every day, skiing with them, working hard. I try to progress myself and in doing so, I help them to progress. So it’s a win-win, I think. ”