SQUAW VALLEY — More than 500 top racers from U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association programs will compete alongside America’s best when Squaw Valley hosts the Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships today through Sunday.
Athletes will battle for titles in super G, giant slalom, slalom and combined, as the downhill already was contested.
Olympic gold medalist and Squaw Valley Ski Team product Julia Mancuso highlights the field along with Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin, as well as Squaw Valley racers Marco Sullivan and Travis Ganong and Truckee native Stacey Cook.
Mancuso has eight Olympic and World Championship medals and a record 15 U.S. Championships. Her U.S. Ski Team, meanwhile, enters the event after closing a historic Audi FIS Alpine World Cup season with 33 podiums from 10 different athletes, including 18 victories.
“I’m really excited to have Nationals at Squaw Valley,” Mancuso said. “It’s an awesome place. I grew up training there on the run that’s now Julia’s Gold, so that’s very exciting and I really look forward to it.”
Sullivan said he looks forward to ending the season at his home mountain, as he won his first national title when Squaw last hosted the U.S. Alpine Championships in 2002.
“The best part about having the Champs at Squaw is going to be skiing around with all these people that I travel with all year. We ski around a lot of cool ski areas but (this) week I’ll finally bring them to my home area and get to show them the ropes,” Sullivan said. “We’ll go do some good freeskiing and hopefully have some good racing in the middle and just show off what we have with all these folks from the U.S.”
Ganong said he’s simply glad to be home after a long season on the road. He’s not even sure the last time he raced at Squaw. Perhaps as a Mighty Might, he said.
“I get to sleep in my own bed for the first time all season, ski the best mountain in the world, get to be with all my friends and actually get to ski in front of my family and all my friends,” Ganong said. “It’s the first time I’ve raced at Squaw probably since I was a Mighty Mite. I don’t even know. I haven’t raced there in a long time. It’s really fun to come back and ski at home.”
Also racing on home California snow are Bryce Bennett, Nick Daniels, Foreste Peterson, Mark Engel, Keith Moffat, Lila Lapanja and Nick Cohee, as well as Hughston Norton, Garrett Driller, Thomas Robles, Kenny Wilson, Cody Wilson, Max Hall and Erik Arvidsson, all of Squaw, and Sugar Bowl’s Julia Bjorkman, Riley Plant and Brian Francis.
Squaw Valley coach Brad Saxe said he’s never had seven guys qualify for the Alpine Championships at once.
“It’s kind of crazy this is definitely the largest group of strong boys I’ve ever worked with in one club,” Saxe said. “They’re the top guys in the nation. They’re all ranked in their age group in the top five in their discipline. So it’s hard to say this guy is going to do something because any one of them can do anything.”
Arvidsson is coming off a second place in giant slalom at the U-18 Nationals earlier this month. Driller was second in the U-18 slalom, and Norton was third.
“I try not to put too much weight on the outcome, but I would not at all be surprised to see a similar performance here,” Saxe said.
NBC will air a special Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships show on March 24 at 9 a.m.