Say what you want about New Hampshire's Bode Miller, but he always shows up at the starting gate.
And he's always, "right on the edge of what your equipment can handle," said Miller after his U.S. Alpine National giant slalom victory Tuesday at Sugarloaf, Maine.
Local favorite Miller, 28, joined "Best in the West" Ted Ligety, 21, of Park City, Utah as the only two-time winners during the TD Banknorth U.S. Alpine Championships staged Saturday through Wednesday on the Eastern boilerplate at Sugarloaf.
Taken together, they represented the old guard and new wave of American skiers who shared the spotlight all week at Sugarloaf. And there were plenty of other examples.
Miller, who spent his elite developmental years at nearby Carrabassett Valley Academy, overtook first-run leader Jimmy Cochran of Keene, N.H. on the second GS run Tuesday.
It was Miller's eighth U.S. championship, putting him one behind the all-time leaders Tiger Shaw and the late Dick Durrance, who each have nine national titles. Miller also won Saturday's men's downhill.
It may not be long before Ligety catches up with all of them.
2006 Olympic combined gold medalist Ligety did the same thing at Sugarloaf as he did last March during the U.S. Alpine Championships at Mammoth Mountain, Ca. Ligety won both the slalom and combined titles, giving him four national crowns.
Ligety skied first and led all the way in Monday's slalom, although Jimmy Cochran, 24, of Keene, N.H. put down the fastest second run to capture the slalom silver for a second straight year.
Son of U.S. Olympian Bob Cochran, Jimmy Cochran came up to the U.S. Ski Team with Ligety a couple of years ago and the two are leading the next charge from the younger U.S. skiers. Cochran won the national SL and GS titles two years ago at Girdwood, Alaska.
The other men's winner at nationals was a very familiar face in a familiar race.
In his final competition, 32-year-old Daron Rahlves of Sugar Bowl, Ca. won the national super giant slalom title Sunday over Scott Macartney of Redmond, Wash. It was the seventh U.S. title and third straight SG championship for Rahlves.
"Super G is kind of where my ski racing career started," said Rahlves, a student at Vermont's Green Mountain Valley School in the early 1990s when he won the super G title in the Eastern Cup development series.
Rahlves said Sunday's win, "Today is the first time I started high-fiving guys in the start and was, 'All right, last ride down. This wraps it up on super G skis.' It's also the first time I actually let it settle in: 'Yeah, this is it.' That was even more a motivational factor to come out and try to throw it down today. It felt good."
His list of memories includes nine World Cup downhill victories—most by any U.S. man—plus three World Cup SG wins and the gold in SG at the 2001 World Championships.
The women shared the stage more equally at Sugarloaf last week.
Julia Mancuso and Kirsten Clark, two "old timers," climbed to the top of the podium along with three first-time winners—Stacey Cook, Kaylin Richardson and Caitlin Ciccone.
Mancuso emerged as the week's biggest money winner with $6,750, compared to $6,000 for Miller and Ligety, $4,500 for Rahlves, Cochran, Cook and Clark, and a surprising $6,000 for young Caitlin Ciccone.
The Olympic giant slalom champion, Mancuso at 22 is in her sixth year on the U.S. Ski Team. She now has seven national titles—three in combined, two GS and one each in downhill and super giant slalom.
Remarkably Mancuso has been on the podium at nationals in 15 of her last 16 races, and she had a streak of 12 straight national championship races with a top-three finish broke by a fourth place in Sunday's super G.
Mancuso, from Olympic Valley, Ca., finished second to Kirsten Clark in the Saturday DH, fourth in SG, third in slalom and second in GS. Mancuso won the national combined title for the third straight year.
Super G winner Stacey Cook, 21, of Truckee, Ca., said the successes of Mancuso and Lindsey Kildow, 21, of Vail have helped spur the younger skiers to step up their performances.
Cook said, "We have so many young people on the team and the veterans, too, but there's like five or six girls born in the 1984 year alone. We have a young team and I think Julia and Lindsey's success definitely pushes us, I know I feed off of it and I see them do it and I know I can do it, too. I just need more experience."
Recent Olympian and three-time NorAm slalom queen Kaylin Richardson, 21, of Edina, Minn. won her first U.S. slalom gold medal Monday when first-run leader Resi Stiegler of Jackson Hole, Wyo. survived a near spill but lost major time on her final run on Narrow Gauge.
Stiegler wasn't the only one to have trouble. Hailey-born Hailey Duke of Park City clocked the sixth-best first-run time in slalom, but she had trouble in the second run and dropped way down to 48th place.
Unheralded Caitlin Ciccone, 21, of Bethlehem, N.H. collected her first U.S. title in giant slalom Wednesday. Ciccone, second to Mancuso in combined, shifted her emphasis to running gates this season and it paid off. She had the fastest second run.
"I just went out there and went for it," said Ciccone ,who skied for the Franconia (N.H.) Ski Club and Burke Mountain Academy (Vt.) before making the U.S. Ski Team. "When I'm just thinking about my skiing, I'm okay...and I was confident. I wanted to do it."
U.S. downhill winner Kirsten Clark, 28, became the only American to win four consecutive U.S. downhill championships Saturday. Like Bode Miller, Clark came out of Carrabassett Valley Academy, located about a mile from the Sugarloaf base area.
"Thanks, Sugarloaf," said Clark, who captured her seventh national title and fifth in DH. "The course was a little bumpier and rattly. It was good, hard, Eastern ice and snow up there—it's great for racing," she said.
Perhaps the week's biggest news was Miller's statement that he was "excited" to be racing.
"We have a team right now that makes it worthwhile to race against," said Miller, who completed the U.S. national circle at Sugarloaf—golds in downhill (2006), GS (1998 and 2006), super G (2003), combined (2002-03) and slalom (2002-03).
He called Cochran "Von Gruenigen-esque, the way his touch is," a highly complimentary reference to Swiss great Michael Von Gruenigen. Cochran is inconsistent, Miller said, but "he has the potential to be dominant on the tech side...and could be untouchable," when he figures out when to take full risks, Miller added.
Outdoor Life Network will broadcast the TD Banknorth U.S. Alpine Championships Saturday, April 1 at 2:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time and again on Tuesday, April 4 at 3 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time.
Here are the top finishes and local placings for the 2006 U.S. nationals:
Men's combined: 1—Ted Ligety, Park City, Utah (2nd straight U.S. combined title). 2—Jimmy Cochran, Stowe, Vt. 3—Steve Nyman, Orem, Utah.
Men's downhill, March 25: 1—Bode Miller, Bretton Woods, N.H. 1:15.27 (7th U.S. title, first DH). 2—Daron Rahlves, Sugar Bowl, Ca. 1:15.88. 3—JJ Johnson, Park City, Utah 1:16.14. 29—Carl Rixon Jr., SV, 1:18.60 (66 finishers).
Men's super giant slalom, March 26: 1—Daron Rahlves (7th U.S. title, third straight SG) 1:18.80. 2—Scott Macartney, Redmond, Wash. 1:19.11. 3—T.J. Lanning, Park City, Utah 1:19.55. 35—Carl Rixon Jr. 1:24.11 (72 finishers).
Men's slalom, March 27: 1—Ted Ligety, Park City, Utah (2nd straight U.S. slalom title) 1:33.26. 2—Jimmy Cochran, Keene, N.H. 1:33.35. 3 (tie)—Chip Knight, Stowe, Vt. and Cody Marshall, Pittsfield, Vt. 1:34.58 each. 10—Zac Brown, SV and Univ. of Vermont 1:36.69. DNF—Carl Rixon Jr. (36 finishers).
Men's giant slalom, March 28: 1—Bode Miller 2:08.15. 2—Jimmy Cochran 2:09.23. 3—Chip Knight, 2:09.75. DNF—Zac Brown. DQ—Carl Rixon Jr. (49 finishers).
Women's combined: 1—Julia Mancuso, Olympic Valley, Ca. (3rd straight U.S. combined title, 7th national title overall). 2—Caitlin Ciccone, Bethlehem, N.H. 3—Resi Stiegler, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Women's downhill, March 25: 1—Kirsten Clark, Raymond, Me. 1:19.65 (5th career U.S. DH title, 7th national title overall). 2—Julia Mancuso 1:20.14. 3—Stacey Cook, Truckee, Ca. 1:20.22 (52 finishers).
Women's super giant slalom, March 26: 1—Stacey Cook 1:23.90 (1st U.S. title). 2—Kirsten Clark 1:24.01. 3—Kaylin Richardson, Edina, Minn. 1:24.04 (51 finishers).
Women's slalom, March 27: 1—Kaylin Richardson 1:41.26 (1st U.S. title). 2—Caitlin Ciccone 1:41.85. 3—Julia Mancuso 1:42.74. 48—Hailey Duke 2:29.37 (48 finishers).
Women's giant slalom, March 29: 1—Caitlin Ciccone 2:17.96. 2—Julia Mancuso 2:18.10. 3—Stacey Cook 2:18.24. DNF—Hailey Duke (47 finishers).