The 2017 Junior National Championships in Sugarloaf, Maine, were shortened this year with only a men’s and women’s slalom and GS. In years past, Junior Nationals was only for U19s, while this year, U19s were combined U21s to create a far more competitive outcome.
Sugarloaf has a reputation for bringing out the toughest ski racers partly because of its wild weather. The looming cloud cover provided hard snow in the morning on Wednesday and Thursday (March 29-30) and softened the surface by the afternoon for the men’s and women’s second runs both days. The courses developed a few bumps and holes, making for challenging terrain, but all together stellar snow and conditions.
Luke Winters of the National Training Group (NTG) and Sugar Bowl Academy walked away from the weekend with a slalom junior national title and a third-place GS finish just days after grabbing ninth in the slalom at U.S. Nationals.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Winters says referring to his competition. “It’s been a long year for me, but sometimes you actually get rejuvenated when you know there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. I had also skied well at U.S. Nationals so I was ready when Junior Nationals came around.”
Jett Seymour of Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, who held the lead after the first slalom run, trailed closely behind Winters. Winters was able to push Seymour out of the lead with a total time difference of only 0.25 seconds after taking on the wide turn set in the second course. Jack Keane of the NTG and Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV) moved up one spot on the second run to take third for U21s and second for U19s. Meanwhile, Spencer Smith of Stratton Mountain School wrapped up the U19 podium in third place.
The courses were challenging, but the slalom sets were reasonable for the ladies as the snow firmed up and the skies cleared out.
The University of Denver’s Storm Klomhaus and U.S. Ski Team’s Keely Cashman went head-to-head in the slalom for the top women’s honors, with Klomhaus holding on to her first-run lead for the overall win by only 0.19 seconds. “[Junior Nationals] wasn’t really on my radar at all,” notes Klomhaus, a first-year U19. “I actually made a last-minute decision to come out and race these for my spring break, and it’s been super cool my first year in college skiing. The whole season has been a blast.”
Hannah Utter of the NTG and Green Mountain Valley School wasn’t far behind Klomhaus and Cashman with a strong second run that allowed her to bring home the bronze medal.
As for the GS, a few bumps in the course didn’t stop these female powerhouses from cranking out the fast turns. With a high-level field of athletes, the penalties ranged from the teens to low 20s. Cashman may have been beat out by Klomhaus in the slalom, but she claimed retribution in the GS, taking home the title. “I had a lot of big goals this season like NorAm wins, but this season has not been so great for me with my DNF rate,” says Cashman. “I was hoping for a top-five finish at U.S. Nationals and when that didn’t happen, I was using Junior Nationals as my last chance, so it’s nice to have this title.”
The U.S. Ski Team’s Galena Wardle launched a comeback after a slow first run with a much stronger second run that slid her into second place overall. Rachael Desrochers of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail took third for U21s while Claire Thomas of the Park City Ski Team grabbed the bronze for U19s.
On the men’s side, Erik Arvidsson of the U.S. Ski Team led the GS by a significant margin after the first run. But he skied a bit too conservatively on his second run, allowing his teammate George Steffey to come roaring back to take the win. “The skiing has been really good for me this season so far. I found a lot of speed in my skiing this year with my Rossignol set up,” remarks Steffey. “I executed what I wanted to execute and was happy with how I skied.”
Winters wasn’t about to leave Junior Nationals without two podium finishes. He finished up the GS with two solid runs and now enters the spring racing season with a bit of confidence to dig into. For the U19s, River Radamus (U.S. Ski Team) skied a tactical and clean line to claim the title. Andrew Miller of the NTG and Park City Ski Team finished second with Kyle Negomir (SSCV) nipping at his heels in third place.
This year’s inaugural combination of U19s and U21s at Junior Nationals consisted of a GS and a slalom while the U.S. Nationals super-G race counted toward the Junior Nationals race. This turned out to be beneficial for those who were exhausted with the long playbook of races in years past. By adding the super-G into U.S. Nationals, it allowed for one less day of racing after a long season. Juniors who qualified for the super-G at U.S. Nationals were able to race early at Sugarloaf and then make their way to Junior Nationals only a couple days later.
“The goal this year was to raise the level of competition and have our best juniors competing head-to-head for a meaningful national title,” says USSA Alpine Development Director Chip Knight. “We had average GS and SL penalties of 19 for the men and 24 for the women, which were 10 points lower than at the U19 Championships last year. Almost all of our junior C- and D-team athletes stayed after the U.S. Alpine Championships to compete, and the atmosphere was competitive and a lot of fun.”
By Megan Ganim - Contributor