Asit Rathod knows Mount Hood.
What do you get when several hundred of the most hard-core ski families on Mount Hood descend on a quaint little throwback of a resort with limited indoor plumbing?
The Cooper Spur Duel Slalom.
Once a year, snow levels permitting, kid racers from Mount Hood's five Mitey Mite racing clubs pour into the Cooper Spur parking lot starting at 7:30 am to transform a sleepy little getaway into a lively scene of thrills, spills and small-child shenanigans, noisy with clanking cowbells and cheers. The tiny lodge, one chairlift and butt-cold outdoor toilets get overwhelmed quickly, but you don't hear a lot of complaining, because these are ski racing families. They routinely get up at 5 am on weekends to get the kids out there ripping it. That's just what they do. They don't complain about things.
Besides, it is hard to complain when you look up from the parking lot and see this:
Especially when the previous race looked like this:
My daughter Melina has been a Mitey Mite racer for a while now, and I can tell you from experience that there is a LOT of young skiing talent on Mount Hood, and some amazing coaching. Melina's first coach was Alexandra Pallas Loren, who is now sponsored by ON3P, and if you've seen Alex ski you understand how lucky that was. These days we're feeling even luckier because her new coach is AJ Kitt, a four-time Olympian who made the U.S. Ski Team at the age of 19.
250 kids competed in this year's Cooper Spur Duel Slalom, and they ranged from first-timers in baggy snowpants to full-out rippers in Lycra superhero suits who swat down gates like Apollo Creed in the gym. Cooper Spur is a tiny resort, but the trail where they set the dual slalom course is pretty steep, and before long it was solid ice. Watching these kids barrel down that course slicing turn after turn to the finish is a lot of fun, especially when you get a good close duel.
The girl on the left in the photo above is Charlotte Morris, a U12 who has been skiing with Melina for years. I think she finished fourth in her age division in this race, and her brothers Jack and Ian got third and fourth. They're all awesome little skiers (actually not so little any more in Ian's case), improving every year. Their parents Ted and Kerri-Lynn got them started early, encourage them often, and even spring for summer training sessions on Palmer. I know this because Ted is one of my ski buddies too. That's an added bonus with the kid racing scene on Hood: The parents love to get out there and have fun while the kids are training, so you can always find someone up for a powder expedition to Clark Canyon or Jack's Woods or God's Wall.
The girl on the right in that photo is Mackenzie Walker, another standout U12 racer. Her dad Jack Walker has been involved with racing for years, and just a few months ago he organized a preseason training week at Sun Valley in Idaho, where they got to shred gates before the rest of Sun Valley even opened. I know that because Jack and I are both members of Schnee Vogeli, a Mount Hood ski club that dates back to the 1940s. Gordy Lusk, another Schnee, was also at Cooper Spur on Sunday, celebrating his 62nd birthday by cheering on his grandson.
The Scroggins brothers were in attendance as well, Jesse, Lloyd and Willie. These guys are legends on Mount Hood, to the point where our club has a running joke about who will be the next Designated Scroggins (DS) to show up and win the trophy at the annual club championship.
The longer you hang around the kid racing scene, the more you realize just how deep the passion runs for skiing on Mount Hood. Every parent, every coach, every volunteer gatekeeper or course-slipper represents a serious commitment to this mountain we have in our back yard and the opportunities it provides. They aren't just out there staging a race; they're passing along something that matters a lot to them, that they want their kids to experience and understand. I wouldn't be surprised to see one of these kids break through like Jackie Wiles did to make the U.S. Ski Team and represent Mount Hood in the Olympics. But the majority of these Mitey Mites are out there just racing for the fun of it. The skills they pick up as kids will serve them well the rest of their lives, wherever they end up skiing.
There were standout performances for all five of the Mount Hood kid racer clubs, including a 10-second victory by U8 superstar Matthew Kafka of Cascade Winter Sports Club and some awesome runs by U12 speed-racers Bergen Rust and Shelby Willett of the Meadows Race Team. But the Cooper Spur Race Team ended up stealing the show on their home mountain with all sorts of enthusiastic fan support and too many trophies to count. They may train on a small hill with just one chair lift and no flushing toilets, but their parents are Hood River people—kite surfers, trail runners, mountain bikers—so they have been taught from an early age to get outside, get a bit crazy and go for it. No doubt they will grow up to pass on those lessons to the next generation as well.