While U16 national championships have been canceled due to covid complications, junior athletes did not hold back at the Rocky/Central U16 Championships. Over a week of racing in Steamboat Springs, Colo., the top-qualifying athletes across 18 states — from Ohio and Michigan through Colorado and Arizona — joined together to compete in five disciplines, showcasing top junior skiing and future FIS athletes.
The athletes competed in five consecutive days of racing, opening with downhill training on March 1 and concluding with GS on March 5. While spectators were not allowed at the finish, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC) made a concerted effort to provide high quality live time streaming video with commentary for each run, broadcasted on the event’s Facebook Page. Unlike years past where spectators, fellow athletes, and parents would line the finish, SSWSC saw an opportunity to bring live broadcasting of junior races to the forefront of the race agenda, a feat that has seldom taken place at the junior level but could pave the way for future events of their kind.
“Honestly we are so sad not to be able to have spectators lining the hill as they normally do with cowbells ringing and announcers blaring over the PA system,” said Jon Nolting, SSWSC associate executive director. “But it’s like listening to the acoustic version of your favorite song, when it is stripped down you find the beauty in elements of the song you hadn’t heard before. In these stripped-down, COVID-restricted events, we’re left with only the amazing racing, the skill and the courage of these athletes on quiet display, and there’s beauty in that too.”
Skill and courage is no exaggeration for the skiers who rose to the top over six races, including two back-to-back downhills. What would typically foster an environment for connection and friendship off the hill, this championship race brought camaraderie in the start gate to the finish in an environment where athletes relied on their competitive nature and friendship. In the laughter shared at the start, the cheering from the lift, and smiles across the finish line, athletes shared the common feeling of gratitude to be back in the environment with their competitors and friends once again.
Women’s qverall champion Tommie Jo Springer, 15, from Eagle River, Wis., won both the downhill and super G, and she finished just off the podium in fourth in the alpine combined. Coming into the week, Springer just wanted to ski well, not getting her hopes too high coming from out of state. Winning the overall was nothing short of a surprise for the athlete, who dominated both speed races.
“It’s definitely a huge surprise,” said Springer. “In a way, a big weight lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t get to train too much due to COVID. I came out here and rocked it.”
Even with her favorite day being the GS and falling in love with the slalom hill at Howelsen Hill, Springer found success in her early speed events carrying her to the top of the overall podium ahead of a future career in FIS. The Buck Hill native and second-year U16 Skylar Sheppard finished second in the overall after winning the alpine combined and pairing it with multiple top-10 finishes. First-year U16 athlete Nicole Begue, from Vail, will be a future junior athlete to keep on the radar, finishing third overall after two podiums in the combined and super G. Begue hopes to take what she learned from this year and bring it back into U16 championships next year.
“I just need to keep working on my technique on and off the snow,” said Begue. “I just have to keep working hard, the limit is still up there.”
The men showed interchangeable levels of execution, and the battle for the overall title was barely decided after a tie in the slalom. SSWSC second-year U16 Jeremy Nolting prevailed ahead of teammate Danieol Ferucci for the win on home snow after two gold and two silver medals in four of the five disciplines. Nolting attributed his performance to good goal-setting, hill preparation, and confidence in his skiing. Momentum sits on his shoulders moving into FIS next year.
“I am really confident with my skiing, I was expecting some good results,” said Nolting. “You can never expect to win but you can expect some good skiing. I definitely skied my best and put it all out on the hill.”
Like Nolting, Ferucci has taken advantage of additional training time this year to prepare the SSWSC athletes to shine at their home championships race. Pristine conditions in the speed events set up Nolting to capture silver in downhill and super G before taking the win in the combined and sharing the slalom gold with teammate Ferucci. While off to a slow start in the speed events, Ferucci came back to win both the GS and slalom. Rounding out overall performances for the men was Aspen Valley’s Noah Bindas in third, who took home the title of downhill champion.