The Sandy High Freestyle Ski team consists of just two 16-year-old skiers, but they’ve got some serious skills.
215 Athletes from as far away as Lakeview and Ashland, Oregon converged on Mt. Hood Meadows March 1-3 to compete in Skier-Cross, Slalom and Giant Slalom events for the 2017 Oregon High School Ski Racing Championships.
To an outsider, high school ski racing might appear to be strictly an individual sport, as it is in the Winter Olympics. But in Oregon high school ski racing, team scoring, team fun, & camaraderie are emphasized as well. Each team is made up of 5 varsity racers for both a boys and girls team, with one alternate racer that can substitute in if there’s a no-show or perhaps an injury to a teammate. Team scores are calculated by taking the top 3 times for each team for each run and adding them up. "High school ski racing, unlike PNSA and other club racing, is a more inclusive activity,” says Garrett Shields, president of Mt Hood ski league and coach of Cleveland/Grant ski teams. So, we're really trying to get beginners into the sport. And it's less about the competition and really more about having fun."
First up: Skier Cross! (No elbows please)
Skier-Cross made its OISRA (Oregon Interscholastic Ski Racing Association) debut in 2015 at these same State Championship events. The field was much smaller that year, the snowpack was minimal and the course was short and relatively easy. This year, 41 boys and 17 girls competed on a challenging course on “Easy Rider” and they didn’t hold back. Meadows made a legit course that included 2 or 3 jumps, a bunch of rollers and some high-speed high-banked turns that covered the full length of the Easy Rider chairlift. The morning began with course slipping, practice runs and then the time trials. The time trials are like a normal alpine race. One racer at a time skis through the start wand and gets a time at the bottom. Fastest times were around the 44 second mark. From those results, they determine the brackets. It’s like the NCAA “March-Madness” playoff bracket you see in college hoops. The fastest racers are bracketed against the slower skiers in round 1, and so on, in groups of 4. Four people race at once and the top 2 of that particular heat, advance to the next round.
Out of the field of 58 skiers, I only found that a small handful who had EVER even tried skier cross before Wednesday, which added to the surprise and excitement elements of this event. Some used ski poles, most did not. When asked if they had done skier cross in the past, Bennett Harding from Cleveland high school said "I have not, and I am soooo excited! it's gonna be fun and really really fast and a lot of jumps" Anna Easton, also from Cleveland HS: "A couple weekends ago our coach was like 'Hey do you want to do this?' and we we’re like "sure" and we did it and it was really fun, so I really want to do it again." Strategy? "getting on the inside and cutting people off, and being aggressive". Olivia Andersen from Lincoln HS: "I'm just here to have fun, you know, enjoy myself and try something new". Max Morgan from Jesuit high school. "I'm not doing the GS or slalom, so I thought I'd try my luck in Skier-Cross". Jesuit teammate Garrett DiMarco: "This is a first-time experience for me. It's gonna be lots of fun, it's gonna be fast, I'm excited". Camilla Morse from Lincoln HS: "I'm kinda just looking to have fun. I'm more nervous for tomorrow and Friday, But this is just for enjoyment." Michael Liang of Southridge HS on strategy: "Go fast, be aggressive. I think that's the real key." There was a bit of an unwritten rule about physical contact: No elbows!
With the brackets in place, the official elimination rounds got going around 1 o’clock. It transitioned from snowing and breezy in the morning, to sunny and nice as the day progressed. Quite a few spectators lined the course. The fast skiers advanced. The slow skiers did not. The key seemed to be getting out ahead right from the start gate and into the first turn. There were a handful of multiple person crashes and in one case, an athlete was disqualified in the semi-final round for being too physical. Freshman Jihoon Pak, from Lakeridge HS won the race on the boys side. Nicole Danilevsky, a junior from Lake Oswego HS, took home first place for the girls. Said Nicole: “it was a good run. There was one right footer that was a little sketchy, but I got it.”
Here's a shot of Nicole and Jihoon:
Day 2: Boys Slalom, Girls GS ("Go full-send basically and pray for the best")
Thursday started with the Southridge ski team doing their rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at the base area. It was mostly sunny, a little breezy. Soft snow, big ruts on the menu. Boys Slalom was set on Stadium. Girls GS on Middle-Fork/Showoff. Showoff is the steep last section of the hill, finishing near the bottom of the chairlift, which makes it great viewing for spectators. And it’s called “showoff” for a reason! The scene at the top of the boys’ course for the first run was a little restrained. High winds, cool temps, racers seemed focused on the task at hand.
Pre-race strategies: Connor Splitstoser, senior from West Linn HS: "Go full-send basically and pray for the best." Isabella Hoffman, Lakeridge: "My strategy is to get really excited, have really good confidence going into it, and a lot of training and a lot of support from my teammates." Casey Pickett, freshman from Lincoln: "I just want to look at the course, see what I have to do. I think technically I don't want to be too hard on my edges because the snow is going to be softer today. I just want to be there prepared and do what I need to do". Nicole Danilevsky, the defending 2016 GS state champion: "we have a lot of good girls and boys this year. I think we have a good chance of at least getting a podium for team." Lauren Gray, senior from Jesuit HS: "See, I want to survive, so Showoff (long pause), it's a little scary, but it's ok, I've raced it before, so I'm feeling pretty good." Gracen Hokanson of Crater HS: "My strategy is to just go at it and hope I don't crash and try to beat people in front of me."
Here are some Sandy High racers, hanging out at the top of the course:
The boys slalom went by rather quickly. The soft snow, especially near the bottom of the course, made for some extra challenging ruts. There was one section, about 5 gates from the bottom, that were tossing racers left and right.
Post-race comments: Laura Bishop, West Linn: "I kept catching air off of every turn and then I'd get back in it, and this time I got tossed out of the course again...so, pretty rough out there". Alex McVay of OES: "I was a little nervous in the start, but after the first 2 gates, it really was fun." Nate McLennan, Ashland: "i got a little late up top, the flush and hairpin. but after that, I got good speed going into the flats. Sophie Caesar, St. Mary's Academy: "my 2nd run was ok. We've had a lot of girls blowing up and DQ'ing, so I just made it down. that was my goal." Max Alvord, Grant HS: "it was a bit of a rut show coming across the traverse. Other than that, a lot of rhythm and just making sure you stayed early." Reagan Moore, Southridge senior: "Omigosh, what a rush! "I'm still alive." Riley O'Brien, Summit HS OSSA: "it was awesome! Great course, super straight, super-fast.". Sophie Hill, Lincoln: "it was good, but there's kind of bumps in every turn. I thought I was going to come out of my boots."
Boys wrapped up their 2nd run around 2pm, which was even before the girls had started their 2nd run. The mood at the top of the girls for that 2nd run was happy, joyful, party-like. Dancing, singing, joking around, etc.. Many of the boys made their way to the top of the girls course to join in on the fun. The girls course was soft, bumpy, rutted. Just a lot of new snow in the days leading up to this event added to the equation. The course workers did their best to keep it as smooth as possible. It appeared especially bumpy a couple gates down from the top of “showoff”. Nicole Danilevsky, Lake Oswego, followed up her Skier-Cross victory the day before, with another win in the girls GS. Tucker Scroggins, a sophomore from Central Catholic, won the boys slalom: "it went ok. There were some ruts in places that kind of snuck up on me, but overall, coming down here, kinda difficult. I wasn't expecting that much deepness up top. In the flats, I excelled, so that's good."
Day 3: Women’s Slalom, Boys GS ("Point the skis and go for it")
Final day of competition. Girls slalom, Boys GS. Hood River Valley kids were chanting "H-R-V, H-R-V". Kids were getting psyched for their final day of competition. Seniors were contemplating their final race day in their high school ski racing careers. Laura Bishop: "the objective is to be confident and finish the course and hopefully it will be a great day. " Nick Talbot crashed with 2 gates to go on Showoff, one of his skis came off and he dusted himself off and finished on one ski. "I was just trying to ski really aggressive, coach said 'point the skis' and ‘go for it’, so I did. But I guess I hit a rut and just slid out. And finished on one ski." Again, the slalom finished early and the majority of the racers congregated at the bottom of the GS to cheer on the remaining skiers, take photos and do the group hug thing. Great event.
In the end, Hood River Valley ski team took home the coveted overall combined team title. They held an impromptu championship parade down the streets of Hood River at 10pm on Friday night. The rest of the results can be seen here.
But as Garrett Shield points out, Oregon high school racing isn't just about results. It's about community, and it's about getting out there with your friends and teammates and having fun.
Here's a link to a video I shot over the course of the event. Enjoy!
Robin Cressy is a writer and videographer who has been working on Mount Hood for more than 30 years.