Last week the U16 and U18 racers had their chance to make the big championships, but this past weekend it was the time to shine for the younger racers. The U14 racers from Ski & Snowboard Club Vail packed up their freshly tuned skis and headed down to Crested Butte to compete in the Prater Cup. The event served as the main qualifier for the Junior Championships. The young racers once again came away with incredible results and dozens of athletes qualified for the championships.

The Dan Prater Memorial Cup is easily the biggest race of the season for the U14 racers, but it also may be the most interesting. The Prater Cup commemorates Dan Prater who was a Wichita, Kansas man that fell in love with Crested Butte in the 1970’s. Prater moved to Crested Butte and devoted almost all of his time helping junior ski racers on the regional race circuit.

The event originated in 1980 and has developed into one of the most enjoyable race weekends of the season for the young racers. The main message behind the event is sportsmanship and socialization. These racers are at the quintessential moment in their career to begin realizing that appropriate sportsmanship and pressure reducing tactics go a long way.

The interesting part of the event is the skiers are grouped into national teams to race under. Athletes from all teams are randomly paired up with other athletes to race as one nation. By racing for national team names, the skiers feel less stressed at the qualifying event and get to socialize with other teams that they may have not done so with.

On top of racing for national teams, other fun events were in store for the kids in Crested Butte. The skills quest was a new addition to this year’s Prater Cup and included one-ski tests and pivot slip tests. The “cookie crack-up” was also a great way to have a bit of fun before the event started. Essentially the crack-up was a fun cookie-eating contest at the opening ceremony. With a basketball competition, and a big pizza party, it was a weekend full of exciting events for the young racers.

Despite all the fun and games there is still obviously the drive to do well at the event. “Since all of the qualifying races (one SG, 2 GS, 2 SL) take place on this one hill during this one week, the pressure can be extremely high,” said SSCV’s U14 girls coach Robin Chace. “We try to encourage the kids to remain confident and trust in their abilities. Now is not the time to coach technique hoping to see last minute changes in their skiing…. Staying positive is so important for the athletes, parents, and coaches. Continuing to relieve the pressure they feel by encouraging them to attend all the fun extra events is also helpful.” In total there were over 220 racers at the event.

Regardless of the pressure the athletes skied impressively well with numerous athletes qualifying for the championship race, which will be held in Winter Park starting on March 12.

Day one was the big super-g race. The boys had a great start to the weekend in Friday’s Super-G race. Bridger Gile skied his way to a second place finish with a clean run involving a great line choice. Following Gile there was Colby Lange in third, Brendan Keane in fifth, Jacob Dilling in sixth, Patrick Ottley in ninth, and Reese Irwin in tenth. These boys are clearly not strangers to the podium, as they have been racing well all season and keep landing in the top ten in every race they compete in. On the girl’s side of the super-g race, SSCV’s Sylka Snyder took the win by one tenth of a second. Following Snyder for the SSCV team was Haley Frischholz in third and Zoey Livran in sixth. “Last night we did a bit of video analysis which definitely helped the kids take a tighter line and find some speed today,” said SSCV’s U14 boys coach Brett Borgard.

Saturday was even better for the U14 team. The SSCV boy’s team crushed the competition in Saturday’s Giant Slalom races. Seven Vail racers skied their way to the top ten in race one, and six local racers placed in the top ten in race two of the day. Dilling won the race by just a little less than one tenth of a second. SSCV’s Lange placed in second during the first race of the day followed by Gile in fourth, Keane in sixth, Reese Irwin in seventh, Max Bervy in ninth and Ottley in 10th. Race two of the day had just about the same SSCV faces in the top ten. Out of 116 racers, a few of these athletes landed in the top ten in every race of the weekend. It is clear that they are really starting to develop racing skills that are leagues ahead of other teams. Race two had Lange in first, Gile in second, Dilling in fourth, Keane in fifth, Ottley in eighth, and Irwin in 10th.

The SSCV girl’s team skied well on Saturday’s with five skiers in the top ten in both races. Jessica McMurtry held it down in race one placing third, followed by Livran in fourth, Frischholz in fifth, Lily Dines in eighth, and Michaela Strizencova in 10th. Race two proved successful for the girls with Livran racing well and placing second. Following Livran was Elise Viola in fifth, Gretchen Pavelich in sixth, Dines in ninth, and McMurtry in 10th.

The final race day was the day of slalom. It required a lot of work from volunteers to have a super-g race one day, two GS races the next, and two slalom races on the final day. Sunday’s slalom races had dozens of the same exceptional racers from SSCV in the top ten. Gile showed everyone is multi faceted talented by placing well in every race of the weekend and winning the first slalom race of the day. Following Gile were his teammates Dilling in third, Lange in fourth, Keane in fifth, Ottley in sixth, Irwin in seventh, and Lazier in 10th. Race two had Dilling in second, Lazier in fourth, Lange in fifth, Ottley in sixth, Benjamin Kooiman in eighth, and Mathew Macaluso in 10th.

McMurtry skied well and won the first slalom race of the day followed by Taylor Brandt in seventh. Race two was a little more successful for the bulk of the SSCV girls. McMurtry landed on the podium again with a second place finish. Following McMurtry there was Pavelich in fourth, Dylan Fiore in seventh, and Dines in ninth.

Meanwhile at other races it was more of the same with dozens of podium results in challenging conditions against skilled competitors. Over in Snowbird, Utah, this past weekend, between a few feet of new snow, the SSCV U12 alpine skiers competed in the Snowbird IMD South Series GS and slalom event. Henry Heaydon skied well in both events placing second in both GS and Slalom. Heaydon has been racing phenomenally well all season and has landed on the podium in just about every competition. SSCV racer Kellen Kinsella raced well in the slalom event placing fifth. On the girl’s side, Pheobe Heaydon skied well in both the GS and the slalom races and ended in third on both days. In the slalom race on Sunday Meriel Upton placed fourth followed by Kaitlyn Harsch in fifth. To top the weekend off, the teammates of the racers out in Snowbird headed over to Ski Cooper on Sunday to win every race in the dual slalom event. Caroline Jones won the U12 girls race followed by Bayli McSpadden winning the U10 division. Dominik Lettovsky won the U12 division race for the boys.

Even with the insurmountable pressure, and snowy conditions, the Vail racers exceeded expectations across the board. It is safe to say that the dozens of athletes, who qualified for the championships in Winter Park, are great candidates to be the ones standing on the podium in two weeks time.