CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine–The U.S. Alpine Championships returned to Sugarloaf, Maine, on Saturday, starting with the super-G down the infamous Narrow Gauge trail. The field was filled with World Cup athletes and rookies alike. Overnight snow and early morning fog caused race delays in the morning, but volunteers, athletes and coaches were able to get the track in good shape for racing. Laurenne Ross was the fastest woman on the day while Ryan Cochran-Siegle was the fastest man, both taking home the title, “National Champion.”
Ross kicked out of the start gate wearing bib five. The U.S. Ski Team veteran was actually the eleventh athlete on course after the decision was made to run a snow seed of six athletes before the top 15 in the ladies’ race. She took a decisive lead–1.05 seconds ahead of bib 4 Megan McJames–with a final time of 1:21.44 and no one could touch her time.
“Normally, when I approach Nationals, I try to tell myself that I don’t care,” Ross shared. “But ultimately, I do. I want to be the fastest person. I want to be the fastest skier out there, so it still does mean a lot to be able to be the National Champion and win a race is huge. It doesn’t matter if it’s a FIS race or a World Cup – just being the fastest racer is really special. Even though it’s U.S. Nationals, it’s a big race for a lot of people and to be able to win a race in my home country is awesome.”
McJames held onto the second-place finish, tying with World Cup speed veteran Stacey Cook. Cook has had many good runs at Sugarloaf in her career, winning the National Championship super-G in 2006 and 2008 at the venue.
“I remember the first time I went to Nationals and how meaningful it was to race against the best and measure up,” she shared. “So, I want those girls in the back to be able to measure up to my best. You know, I’m not going to give anything away. I want them to see where they need to get to, and that’s probably the most powerful tool at that age – to race against people that are faster.”
Nina O’Brien was the top junior athlete in the ladies’ race, coming in fifth place overall.
On the men’s side, the field had to deal with a well-worn course after 48 ladies had skied down, but when you’re the best in the world, you don’t let that stop you. Ryan Cochran-Siegle put the pedal to the metal, winning his first National Championship race ever, with a final time of 1:19.66.
“I think it means a lot to win a National Championship,” he shared after his winning run. “My family has a lot of National titles to their name, and it’d be nice to kind of hang in there as well. Robby [Kelley] has one, Jimmy [Cochran] has a ton, Robby’s mom has a ton – so it’ll be cool to get in that club.”
Cochran-Siegle’s teammate Jared Goldberg knifed his way to a second-place finish, repeating his performance from 2013 in Squaw Valley, Calif. Rounding out the podium was Travis Ganong, 0.44 seconds away from the win. The veteran admitted that he’s pretty tired at this point in the season.
“My energy level is pretty much gone,” Ganong said. “I made it all the way to the East Coast – I was in Korea two weeks ago, then Aspen for World Cup Finals. It’s sweet to come out to Nationals to see all the kids and everyone’s all fired up to see ski racing again. They’ve been watching us on TV all year, so they can see us now in person, and get some face time with us. It’s fun to come and do one last race of the year – kind of a fun run to end the season, no pressure.”
While there was no pressure for Ganong, Sam Morse felt that excitement of racing on his home hill. The standout junior athlete is fresh off his Junior World Championship downhill win and World Cup debut.
“Racing at home is a ton of fun,” Morse said. “I’ve been telling people this week that there’s a little bit of this ignorant bliss you have when you go to a hill for the first time. Obviously, there’s advantages to running on a hill I already know, but there’s also disadvantages because I also kind of know in terms of where the difficult parts are, where it’s going to stack up, where it’s going to run, so something you find yourself pulling back in those areas because you know it’s going to be close versus if you had no idea then you’d just send it and that’s what’s the fastest.”
Despite knowing too much about the hill, 20-year-old Morse had a strong run, skiing to fourth place and earning the top spot for junior athletes. Racing action continues on Sunday with men’s and women’s slalom.