ST. MORITZ, Switzerland – Vermont’s Benjamin Ritchie was 0.17 seconds away from winning $20,000 for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association in the Longines Future Ski Champions Race in St. Moritz on Tuesday.
Taking place on the same course as the World Cup Finals, the Future Ski Champions Race featured the top U16 giant slalom skier from 14 countries, competing on a shortened version of the World Cup GS course.
Ritchie, 15, from the Green Mountain Valley School came into the race as USSA’s No. 1 U16 athlete this year, having won the super G for YOB 2000 as well as the slalom for YOB 1999 and 2000 at last year’s U16 U.S. National Championships. He won a U16 time trial at Copper Mountain, Colo., at the beginning of the season and went on to finish fourth in GS at the Hahnenkamm Juniors event at Kitzbuehel.
Finishing third in the first run as a couple racers slid out and missed gates, Ritchie trailed Germany’s Pirmin Richter Austria’s and Joshua Sturm, who finished the first run in first and second place, respectively.
As flat light settled over the course and the wind picked up for the second run, Ritchie made up a nearly one-second deficit on the bottom half of the course and crossed the finish line in the lead with a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 36.98 seconds. He was then usurped by Sturm, who finished 0.17 seconds ahead of the American in 1:36.81 for the victory as France’s Augustin Bianchini surged into third place with a time of 1:37.51.
The third of its kind, the Future Champions Race is facilitated by the FIS in partnership with Longines, and is more of a showcase event that doesn’t lead to FIS points. The event alternates gender and age group every year. The winner is presented with a Longines watch, a crystal globe and $20,000 is awarded to his/her country’s ski federation. Longines ambassador Mikaela Shiffrin presented bibs to athletes Monday night in St. Mortiz and the race was conducted in similar fashion to a World Cup, with an award ceremony in the finish area, prizes presented by Longines and FIS delegates and the winner’s national anthem played over the loudspeaker.
Although he missed out on the grand prize, Ritchie was pleased with his second place result and regards the race as a key highlight of his young career.
“I’m not sure if it’s more important than Hahnenkamm Juniors, but it feels like it with all the cameras and the scene here,” Ritchie said. “I was pretty nervous coming into it – we don’t have much snow for training now on the East Coast. But I felt comfortable on the course. It was fun.”