If you think the Sun Valley weather has been a little dicey recently, just imagine being at Alyeska, Alaska last week during the 2009 Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Ski Championships.
Last Thursday's men's and women's super giant slaloms were canceled by fog and bad weather—but it was just a harbinger of things to come for the 120 American racers scheduled to race all disciplines.
U.S. Ski Team women's head coach Jim Tracy along with his athletes and other coaches agreed that the real gold medalists for the week were the course workers and volunteers who worked overtime in challenging conditions to prepare the hill so they could compete.
Among the challenges: Two feet of snow Thursday and Friday, plus 8 inches of new snow Saturday that lowered the start of the men's and women's downhill. Add 3 more inches of snow Saturday night for Sunday's slaloms, then an additional 12 inches overnight Sunday and throughout Monday's women's giant slalom.
For the season, Alyeska, near Anchorage, has enjoyed 542 inches of snow—but never volcanic ash until 10,197-foot Mount Redoubt, 110 miles southeast of Anchorage, had a huge eruption last Wednesday.
Tracy said Sunday, "The crew here deserves all the praise. We've had 30 inches of snow, wind, volcanic ash falling from the sky, everything you can think of short of an earthquake and these guys have done an amazing job."
USST men's head coach Sasha Rearick said, "They have tremendous pride in the job they do here. Yesterday (Saturday) for the downhill, they busted their butts to make the races happen. We received another 3 to 4 inches of snow last night and there was an avalanche that fell over the race hill yesterday. You name it, it has happened and the crew has dealt with it so our athletes can race. It's incredible."
Olympic Valley's Julia Mancuso, 25, won the combined and giant slalom at Alyeska for her ninth and 10th U.S. titles and generally was the American women's star last week. She tied Andrea Mead Lawrence for the most U.S. women's titles.
Mancuso, reigning Olympic GS gold medalist, said after Monday's .15-second GS win in the new snow, "I didn't bring fat enough skis for all this powder. It snowed at least a foot and a half last night, but they groomed late into the night so it wasn't too bad for the race, just a really rough base that got pretty bumpy."
After Saturday's downhills, won by Squaw Valley's Marco Sullivan and Minnesota native Kaylin Richardson, their third U.S. titles apiece, the volcanic ash from Mount Redoubt started falling and crews had to clear the ash from the course for Sunday's slalom/combined.
Two-time World Cup women's overall queen Lindsey Vonn added another victory to her record-breaking season by taking the third slalom title of her career Sunday—her fifth national title. She and Mancuso left after nationals for a celebrity ski event in Switzerland.
Reno's Tim Jitloff, 24, also won combined and giant slalom for his second and third U.S. championships. He skied under a blue sky on Tuesday's final day to repeat his U.S. GS title. The men's slalom champion was last year's Dartmouth ski captain David Chodounsky.
The Western Region celebrated its sixth consecutive Tom Garner Memorial Region's Cup, one-upping the East by 1,044 points. Final points were Western Region 2,774, Eastern Region 1,730 and Rocky/Central Region 1,112.
Rearick said, "I can't say enough about what the folks at Alyeska did for us. We were dished about the worst weather conditions you can possibly imagine and they did everything to make three great races happen. It was awesome."
Versus, local cable channel 40, plans to televise the U.S. downhill and slalom races on Saturday, April 11 starting at 2 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time.
The Nature Valley Freestyle Challenge dual moguls and Sprint U.S. Freestyle Championships (moguls and skier halfpipe) will be shown on Versus Saturday, April 4 starting at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. MDT.