Over 70 of the best young ski racers from across Alaska will converge on Eaglecrest Ski Area on Thursday for four days of racing at this year's Alaska Marine Lines Race Series.
The AML Race Series has been held for the last 10 years and gives ski racers ages 11-18 years old a chance to qualify for the Junior Olympic Western Regionals later this season. Due to lack of snow last year, the Series was raced at Alyeska as part of the Alyeska Cup.
The AML Race Series will feature two days of super G races, the giant slalom and slalom. Super G races are scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday for the J-1 and J-2 classes and at 10:30 a.m. on Friday for the J-3 and J-4 classes. Giant slalom races are scheduled to start at 10:15 a.m. on Saturday and slalom races are scheduled for Sunday, starting at 10:10 a.m. Race days and times are subject to change due to weather.
The Alyeska Cup is the state's other Junior Olympic qualifier and is held in Girdwood on Feb. 9-17. Girdwood is home to the state's only downhill course, giving Alyeska five of the eight state qualifying races.
"We don't have a downhill here because we're not homologated for it -- were not certified for downhill," Juneau ski club head coach Jayme Johns said. "We have one day of downhill in Alyeska, but Alaska kids and especially Juneau kids handle it well for only having one downhill a year."
Nine boys and seven girls in the combined J-1 (17-18-year-olds) and J-2 (15-16) classes as well as nine boys and seven girls in the combined J-3 (13-14) and J-4 (11-12) classes will advance from the Alaska Division to the Western Regionals. Racers typically need to finish in the top spots in five out of the eight combined Alaska races to qualify.
The most exciting race should come from Eaglecrest's Super G course where it will take all the racer's skill to negotiate the tight turns and steep, quick drops of Hilary's, a run fittingly named after Juneau's greatest ski racer, Hilary Lindh.
"Usually, the last couple hundred yards is the most technical," Johns said. "It's the most technical Super G in the West Coast. We had the Junior Olympics here in '93 and even to this day, we hear people talking about that."
"It's awesome," Juneau Ski Club racer Heidi Denton said. "A bunch of the older kids in Anchorage say it's the best Super G course. It's more technical because of the terrain -- it's more narrow than most runs. It's intimidating for those who come from out of town."
"These kids are up there challenging themselves and that's what Eaglecrest does for them," said Doug Wahto, Juneau Alpine Director and representative for the U.S. Ski Association. "But above all, it's safety. When comes to a ski event, it's the primary reason -- safety. We have a protocol we use with the U.S. Ski Association that provides a framework. Everything is said and done by USA guidelines."
Wahto cites a lot of dedicated parents, the support of the City and Borough of Juneau as well as the sponsorship of Alaska Marine Lines as the reason for the success of the Juneau Ski Club.
Denton, who competes in the J-1 class, consistently has been the top girl this season for Juneau. She won both Super G races Ptarmigan series races Sunday, on a shorter Super G course than will be run at the AML Series, as well as sweeping the giant slalom in Winterfest series on Jan. 20. Denton placed 10th overall at last year's Western Regionals.
"I'm just ready to go and have some fun," Denton said, who started racing in Eaglecrest's Race Rats program when she was 6 years old. "I'm going to ski as well as I can and see what happens."
For the boys, Mark Harmon has made remarkable progress since arthoscopic knee surgery on Dec. 17. He won the second Super G race on Sunday with a fantastic time of 1:01.93, 2.21 seconds of second-place finisher Brandon Andrews.
"I got some pain, but I'm about 90 percent," said Harmon, who races in the J-2 class. "I'm still holding back a little, but I'm trying to work my way up to where I need to be. I'm going to try to win."
But Johns says his whole team is full of strong skiers and Juneau should send many skiers to the Western Regionals.
"They are really aggressive on their skis," Johns said. "And they are just real well from slalom to going 60-70 mph -- going as fast as they can."
However, weather could be a factor with snow and rain forecast through the weekend. A make-up day has been set for Monday.
"We're all concerned about the weather," Wahto said. "The ideal weather would be last week. We start Wednesday and start laying fence if weather permits."
Jeff Kasper can be reached at email@example.com.
JUNEAU SKI CLUB WINTERFEST SERIES
Results from the Juneau Ski Club's Winterfest Series ski races, a pair of Super G races held Sunday at Eaglecrest Ski Area.
Women -- 1. Heidi Denton, class J-1, 1:05.73; 2. Elise Wahto, J-3, 1:12.10; 3. Elizabeth Nowlin, J-2, 1:13.30; 4. Kristen M. Brandner, J-3, 1:13.55; 5. Julia Nave, J-3, 1:13.87; 6. Gabrielle Wahto, J-4, 1:14.62; 7. Kayla Harmon, J-3, 1:14.87; 8. Sara Cohen, J-3, 1:37.54. DNS: Heidi E. Reifenstein, MID; Kaitlyn Bausler, J-2. DNF: Gabrielle Vance, J-4; Akemi Kunibe, J-2.
Men -- 1. Gerrad Craig, J-2, 1:04.91; 2. Mark Harmon, J-2, 1:05.19; 3. Brian Nowlin, J-1, 1:05.23; 4. Brandon Andrews, J-1, 1:05.87; 5. Nick Yankee, J-2, 1:06.09; 6. J.C. Grochow, J-1, 1:06.55; 7. Don Meiners, J-2, 1:07.32; 8. Kyle White, J-2, 1:08.97; 9. Charles D. Williams, J-3, 1:10.08; 10. Pat Shanley, J-2, 1:10.37; 11. Joshua Young, J-3, 1:10.67; 12. Zachary Young, J-3, 1:11.18; 13. Christopher Hinkley, J-4, 1:12.28; 14. Tom Meiners, J-4, 1:18.37; 15. Nathan Ord, J-4, 1:25.06. DNS: Clark Gruening, MAS. DNF: Donny Peterson, J-3; Richard Isett Jr. J-2.
Women -- 1. Heidi Denton, class J-1, 1 minute, 5.38 seconds; 2. Elise Wahto, J-3, 1:11.20; 3. Julia Nave, J-3, 1:12.55; 4. Gabrielle Wahto, J-4, 1:12.86; 5. Kristen M. Brandner, J-3, 1:13.13; 6. Kayla Harmon, J-3, 1:13.59; 7. Elizabeth Nowlin, J-2, 1:14.55; 8. Gabrielle Vance, J-4, 1:15.54; 9. Sara Cohen, J-3, 1:36.30. DNS: Heidi E. Reifenstein, MID; Kaitlyn Bausler, J-2. DNF: Akemi Kunibe, J-2.
Men -- 1. Mark Harmon, J-2, 1:01.93; 2. Brandon Andrews, J-1, 1:04.14; 3. Gerrad Craig, J-2, 1:05.30; 4. Brian Nowlin, J-1, 1:05.51; 5. Nick Yankee, J-2, 1:06.02; 6. J.C. Grochow, J-1, 1:06.29; 7. Don Meiners, J-2, 1:06.97; 8. Zachary Young, J-3, 1:09.82; 9. Pat Shanley, J-2, 1:10.51; 10. Joshua Young, J-3, 1:11.17; 11. Christopher Hinkley, J-4, 1:11.99; 12. Charles D. Williams, J-3, 1:12.07; 13. Kyle White, J-2, 1:12.65; 14. Tom Meiners, J-4, 1:16.20; 15. Nathan Ord, J-4, 1:25.50. DNS: Donny Peterson, J-3; Clark Gruening, MAS. DNF: Richard Isett Jr., J-2.