One by one, members of the Juneau Ski Club lined up at the starting gate, then, at a word from the coach, launched down the slalom course, snapping poles with every schwooping turn.
After warm weather canceled two previous races at Eaglecrest, the local ski team officially launched its season Sunday with the Winterfest Series Slaloms.
Nearly 30 athletes competed in the slaloms Sunday. Wyatt Fornier took the men's slalom title, while Hilary Turner won the women's race.
Fourth-year coach Jayme Johns, himself a former JSC member, liked what he saw after the season's first races.
``It was great to see the kids ski so well,'' Johns said. ``They've all gotten a lot bigger and stronger. So many of the kids have improved.''
Two races were scheduled, but officials were still learning the software for a new timing system, and coaches decided to use the afternoon for practice. Ski members could get another chance at timed runs this weekend, however, as the Timberwolf Gift Classics Giant Slalom have been tentatively rescheduled for this Sunday, and the Millennium Series Slaloms could be re-run Saturday depending on snow conditions, Johns said.
Johns said he is excited for this year's team. A record 17 JSC skiers competed in the Junior Olympics last season, and 12 return. Heidi Denton, Callen Janowiec, Nikki Andrews, Breanne Rohm and Hilary Turner are the returning JO women skiers; J.C. Grochow, Brandon Horst, Mark Harmon, Richard Isett Jr., Brian Nowlin, Dylan Fornier and Corey Denton are the returning men.
Also, three senior members of the team recently had strong performances in FIS (Federation Internationale de Ski) races in the Lower 48.
Heidi Denton had a fifth-place finish in the slalom at the Western Region Open Series at Mt. Bachelor, Ore., earlier this month. Meanwhile, Turner and Corey Denton skied at the Rocky Mountain West Trophy Series in Steamboat Springs, Colo., Jan. 4-6, and at the Utah Winter Games Tech Series in Park City Jan. 9-12.
Turner, a Junior II skier (ages 15-16), twice was unable to finish her second run in the GS at Steamboat Springs, but came back to place 26th in the slalom on the final day of competition.
``That's a huge accomplishment,'' Johns said. He noted that both of the races featured top-level collegiate skiers and ex-World Cup racers, meaning Turner and Corey Denton, who have much less race experience, had to start at the back of pack.
``You're skiing a course after 70 other people have skied before you,'' Johns said. ``Then to ski up 40 or 50 spots, that's what people look at. If (Turner) had started near the front, she'd be up on the podium.''
Turner appeared fully recovered from a devastating knee injury she suffered on the slopes last season, Johns said.
``She's skiing at a 110 percent,'' Johns said. ``It's like it never happened to her.''
At the Utah Winter Games, Turner skied to 51st- and 50thplace finishes in the slalom and was 39th in one GS race.
Denton placed 79th and 85th in two GS races at Park City, and 46th in the slalom. At the Utah Winter Games, Denton was 79th and 69th in two GS races and 64th and 48th in the slaloms.
Johns' twin brother Jeffrey, an assistant coach with the team, accompanied Denton and Turner on the trip.
``There were a lot of racers there with a lot of potential,'' Jeffrey Johns said. ``It's a real benefit for our kids to be around that.''
Other races Outside are planned, including, the Junior Olympics in March. There are two qualifiers for the JO's: the Alaska Marine Lines Series at Eaglecrest Feb. 3-7, and the Alyeska Cup in Girdwood Feb. 14-21.
Jayme Johns said 52 skiers are in currently in the club - about normal. He said a developmental squad that introduces young skiers to racing has meant more JIV-level skiers (11-12) have stuck with the team.
``They used to come right from Mighty Mites into the Junior program,'' Johns said, which meant training five days a week. ``This is less traumatic. They have a good time and also get some gates in.''
New coaches Staci Baxter and Mike Moffett head the developmental team.
Joining the Johns brothers with the Junior team is Andy Engstrom, a former Juneau Ski Club member, and Bryan Walker, who helped coach the team last year and skied with the Johns at Ft. Lewis College in Colorado.
``In general, the whole team is looking good this year,'' Johns said.
Fischer, Stell post top FIS finishes
Two former members of the Juneau Ski Club had several top finishes at the Rocky Mountain West Trophy Series in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and the Utah Winter Games Tech Series in Park City.
Kevin Stell, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team's Developmental Squad and a competitor at the World Junior Championships, placed second in the slalom in Steamboat Springs. He also had ninth and 10th-place finishes in the giant slalom. In Utah, Stell skied seventh and 11th in two GS races, and 11th in the slalom.
Fischer, who qualified for the Western Region quota of the North American Junior Championships, is in her senior year at Rowland Hall-St. Mark's School in Salt Lake City where she is a member of the Rowmark Ski Academy. She finished ninth in the slalom and 21st and 32nd in the GS at Steamboat Springs. At the Utah Winter Games Fischer was 11th and 13th in two slalom races and 36th in the GS.
Last year Fischer was captain of the Rowland Ski Academy and was the downhill and overall champion of the Intermountain Cup race series.