Story by John LaConte

VAIL — A tough slalom on Saturday marked the final day of racing for the 165 13- and 14-year-olds in town competing in the 2012 J3 Rocky/Central Junior Championships.

The course was a longer one than the kids are used to seeing, as it was set to World Cup specifications and ran as long as allowed according to regulations.

Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s men struggled to make it into the top 10, but those who did were happy with their result.

“I was definitely feeling the burn at the end,” said SSCV’s Sands Simonton, who finished 10th on the day with a combined time of 1 minute, 43.29 seconds. “But all and all I was happy with the result.”

Simonton was edged out by his teammate Colby Derwin, who clocked the best time for the SSCV boys with a time of 1:43.20.

The SSCV girls fared better, taking places two through four with good performances from Megan McGrew (second), Camilla Trapness (third) and Sasha Horn (fourth).

“Any day we go two through four in the slalom, especially against Buck Hill and some of the Central kids that are really great slalom skiers, we’re very happy,” said SSCV women’s coach J.J. Jensen. “You can’t take anything away from any of the kids from Central.”

The Junior Championships brought together the best J3 (13- and 14-year old) racers from the 18 states withing the regions deemed “Rocky” (Rocky Mountain states) and “Central” (states in the Midwest area of the U.S.) The Central region, or “Central Nation” as it’s affectionately nicknamed by racers, is known around the country for producing good slalom skiers. Tommy Anderson, the winner of the men’s slalom, hails from Buck Hill, which just happens to be the club Lindsey Vonn was a part of before she moved to Vail as a teen. Buck Hill coach Tasha McCrank says slalom is her team’s event, and the course was challenging enough to satisfy her athletes. 

“We had some good performances,” she said. “Some of the kids said they were feeling the burn, and breathing heavy at the bottom … It’s a great venue, we just need to train a little more to compete in the other events.”

McCrank said the event was well organized and fun.

“(Vail) did a great job, they always do a great job,” she said. 

Some teams had to travel nearly a full day to get here, but the general sentiment among parents and coaches was the trip was worth it.

“When we come from as far away as 22 hours, it’s really nice to be taken care of at such a good venue, the hosts have been great,” said Greg Palm, a parent with Hidden Valley Ski Team in Missouri. “And you guys sure ordered up some nice weather.”

Earlier in the week, Team Breck coach Jeff Westcott said the amount of work it takes to host an event like this is hard for the average person to understand. At the awards dinner following the event, Organizing Committee Co-Chair Kim McGrew got right to the point. 

“This week would not have come off the way it did without the thousands of hours of volunteer help,” she said, to a large round of applause. 

McGrew was as masterful with her speech as her daughter was on the slopes this week. At that same awards ceremony, those in attendance learned that SSCV racer Megan McGrew had won the overall title in the event. Add that to a long line of SSCV girls finishing in the top 10 overall including Abigail Murer in third, Rachael Desrochers fourth, Sasha Horn sixth, and Camilla Trapness ninth.

On the guys’ side, SSCV also placed several racers in the top 10 overall including Ryan Schmidt second, Logan Martin third, Sands Simonton fourth and River Radamus in fifth. First went to the dominant Sky Kelsey of Aspen Ski Club. 

The leaders of each event win an entry into an exclusive U.S. National Program camp, where they will get a chance to mingle with the best racers from the Rocky, Eastern and Far West regions next month in Park City. They’ll do physical training, learn about sport science and get a chance to do some racing, as well.

“It’s really just a chance for these kids to see each other head to head and mingle with the top competitors in their sport,” said Sara Radamus, mother of Friday’s giant slalom winner River Radamus. “It will be a good opportunity for them.”

But even the kids who took nothing from the races still take away a great experience. 

David Viele, a former ski racer and sponsor of the event, said if they take away nothing else, take away these three lessons.

“Learn from your failures … embrace your craft with humility … and always say thank you.”

But to all the hard workers, organizers and volunteers of the 2012 J3 Rocky/Central Junior Championships, seeing the smiles on the athletes faces was thanks enough.