On Valentine’s Day, the athletes had to put their chocolates and roses aside to take on their competitors in a head-to-head slalom. The athletes were dueling for the chance of winning a piece of the $75,000 purse, split between the podium and junior podium athletes. The day began with the slalom qualifiers and as the evening rolled around, under the lights, the men and women took on the dueling races. The athletes fought through some tough conditions and cold temperatures for the chance to make it into the final round. Two athletes from the United States, Jett Seymour skiing for the University of Denver and Foreste Peterson skiing for Alpine X Team battled to the end for the gold medal position and $11,350 prize.
Back in November, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard and International Federation of Skiing (FIS) announced a partnership with the Winter4Kids program at the Winter Activity Center, New Jersey to host this first-ever parallel slalom NorAm race in the U.S.
“Tonight, we hosted the first-ever NorAm Cup parallel ski race in the U.S. right here at Winter4Kids,” said Schone Malliet, CEO of Winter4Kids. “We’re thankful for all of our volunteers who allowed this event to be a success, as well as friends and family who came out to support. It was our pleasure to present competitors that have come from far and wide to showcase their talent, with a significant reward.”
The event is intended to be the first of many parallel slaloms held in the U.S. on the NorAm circuit. Also, Winter4Kids wanted to host this exciting spectator race in the Tristate Area at their Winter Activity Center with the goal of expanding snow sports, especially skiing to various types of fans, particularly kids that grow up in communities where these sports are not really existent.
“Overall, it was a great venue, with a super cool training area for slalom and the Winter Activity Center is a great place to hold a slalom race,” said the US Ski Team’s AJ Ginnis.
Lindsey Vonn, Retired U.S. Olympic Ski Racer, also came out to support the event and to cheer on the athletes gunning for the finish line. Several top ski racers are huge supporters of the Winter4Kids program and love the aspirations to expand the sport and make it more accessible.
Mikaela Shiffrin told Ski Racing Media, “It is vital that we find ways to make the sport more accessible, and the mission of Winter4Kids and the National Winter Activity Center is just what our sport needs in order to grow and thrive.”
The women started the day off with the qualifier slalom race and then headed into four rounds of PSL, ending in a heated final round. The temperatures remained very cold throughout the day and into the evening, which made for a solid surface. Despite the cold, the sun was shining during the day, which was uplifting to the organizers, athletes, and coaches.
“The conditions were amazing. It was probably some of the hardest snow we’ve seen all year on the NorAm circuit. Racing under the lights is always fun. I think it adds an element of excitement and intensity,” Peterson said.
Lila Lapanja skiing independently and for the CLIF Bar USA Team, came out of the morning with very fast feet. Lapanja struck gold for the slalom qualifier round with a time of 38.66. Directly behind her speedy time, Katie Hensien of the U.S. Ski Team ended 0.49 behind Lapanja and Resi Stiegler of the U.S. Ski Team came into third-place, just 0.23 behind Hensien.
As the women went into the evening, they geared up to take on an entirely new type of slalom event, the parallel slalom.
“Overall, the incorporation of parallel slalom into the NorAm circuit has been a really cool addition. It truly is its own event and there is no other feeling like head-to-head competition,” said Storm Klomhaus of the University of Denver Ski Team.
After many rounds of skiers hitting the courses, the last few rounds approached for the women. AJ Hurt of the U.S. Ski Team fought vigorously into her last round where she went head-to-head with Foreste Peterson (DU), which put Hurt into the third-place position. As the bracket closed into the final round, Storm Klomhaus (DU) and Foreste Peterson (Alpine X) stood in the start gate ready to duel for the win. The first race of the final round was a nail bitter. Klomhaus came across the finish line with an elbow lead of 0.02, against Peterson.
In the second race of the final round, the two women were sending it with a genuine competitive spirit. Unfortunately, they both fell in the final round. However, the rule plays that if both athletes DNF in the round, the athlete that fell further down the course will be awarded the win. Therefore, Foreste Peterson was awarded the win and the very generous cash prize.
“I am very excited. This is my first time skiing in New Jersey,” said Peterson. “I want to thank Winter4Kids for putting this event on, it was a great experience from the course conditions to the volunteers. I am really happy with how I performed and I’m thankful for this opportunity.”
“It was the most fun I have had racing in a really long time, and the last round was the most exciting ending of a race I have ever had,” Klomhaus said.
The men started off with a very tight qualifier round. Sandy Vietze of Redneck Racing Independent Team blazed out of the start gate, putting down a winning run time of 38.37. With an extremely tight finish after him, Asher Jordan skiing for the British Columbia Provincial Team crossed the finish line just 0.01 behind Vietze. To round out the top-three, George Steffey of the U.S. Ski Team came down a mere 0.04 behind Asher.
Later into the evening, the men turned on their dancing feet once again for the parallel slaloms, underneath the lights. As the last few rounds approached for the athletes, AJ Ginnis of the U.S. Ski Team earned the bronze-medal prize. Unfortunately, for the men, the groves started to deepen throughout the night, due to many athletes running the same two courses. Ginnis caught a weird edge on one of the grooves during his race against Jett Seymour, an athlete for the University of Denver, which bumped him out of the final round.
“I lost to Jett Seymour in the final rounds because I feel and went out, due to a weird rut,” Ginnis said. “Nevertheless, I was pretty comfortable on my other races leading up to the finals, which was encouraging.”
For the final round, Jett Seymour (DU) and Benjamin Ritchie of the U.S. Ski Team stood at the top, ready to duke it out for that grand prize. At this point, it was late in the evening, the ruts were aggressive, and they both had to give it all they had for the final chance at winning. Seymour (DU) came across the last two runs with the overall win, 0.50 ahead of Ritchie. This was an exciting duel for the men’s NorAm field.
“I am happy to be here,” Seymour said. “This was an exciting NorAm race in New Jersey, especially for it being my first time in the state. I’m glad to have been able to race at Winter4Kids.”
Most athletes agreed, the inaugural event was a great success. Nevertheless, since parallel slalom is still a new event, especially to the NorAm circuit, there has been some back and forth discussion on the parallel slaloms as an event, especially after different World Cup athletes went on social media griping about safety, fairness and quality of the event last week. After the event took place last night for the NorAm circuit, some athletes and coaches went on to question the safety of parallel slalom and if the risk of injury is worth it. Due to a few injuries in the men’s field, there are still some concerns about the event at the NorAm level.
“I have been injured a lot, so I take the parallel slalom a little more cautiously because I do not think the injury is worth the win,” said Ginnis. “The issue, I believe, is that with the super competitive nature of dueling the younger guys have the ability to take more risks, but that can end unfortunately for them because many were getting injured.”
Peterson also touched base on the fairness of running the qualifier round as a normal slalom gate and not the parallel slalom panels.
“I think parallels in the future should use a paneled slalom qualifying run format as opposed to the current single pole slalom run to determine seeding. Those fastest in the slalom aren’t necessarily fastest in the parallel, as they are two distinct events,” said Peterson.
All of these concerns and ideas for the parallel slalom events can be a critical component to the growth of the parallel event, especially on the NorAm circuit and to the fans watching in the U.S. Nevertheless, the Winter Activity Center did the job of expanding this competitive, fun event into the U.S. for the NorAm circuit, which is another step forward to the capability of the parallel slalom.