It was a race for the brave of heart and those prepared to test brake-neck speeds, but the Heavenly U12 boys weren’t afraid.
The best Heavenly U12 skiers rolled out to a 1,100-meter super G slalom that was set in world cup fashion at Mammoth Mountain this past weekend. The course was billed at the Minaret Challenge, and it was easy to see why from the starting gate on top of Denny’s Downhill, which overlooks the magnificent jagged peaks of the Minaret Mountain Range.
The boys hit the slopes Friday for two training runs. The course was firm and fast. The coaches and mountain staff were hopeful the racers would get three runs in, but by noon it was clear that the snow conditions were getting too soft. Two training runs would turn out to be plenty for the Heavenly boys.
An extra training run was allowed Saturday morning, fueling the race-day excitement that racers were humming with at the start house. The starting stage was professionally set with a large Tag Huer timing clock and a literal green light for go with an audio beep. Racers felt as if they were skiing in a FIS event.
Their racing skis towered over the young racers, but Trevor Brown from Rainbow Mountain had given the skis the perfect grind before the Heavenly team left home. With all the energy of an Indy arena pit crew, radio traffic was heavy with course reports coming in from Waterfall, Lights Out, Stump Alley and the finish arena.
Only the coach and racer were allowed in the start house together allowing them to focus entirely on the task at hand — descending the course successfully.
Out of the start, the racer faced a firm and fast intermediate pitch for the first five turns. They dropped over the first fall away with a cranking right turn into Stump Alley, and down over a section dubbed Waterfall into another alleyway over the bump called Lights Out. After Lights Out, the course dumped the racers into another ally with banking chicane like turns, then a final right footer over the last pitch and a run to the finish area at outpost 14.
Heavenly’s Gunnar Barnwell ran in 18th position on Saturday. He had one run to prove himself against this field and posted a 1:19:52, putting him right in the middle of the pack. Teammate MJ Allen finished with a time of 1:28:23 after running somewhere in the 40’s for a starting position, placing him 63rd.
The coaches from Mammoth were confident that their racer had taken the top of the podium with most of the field run. The Mammoth coach said their racer had a full two-second command of the race.
“After seeing Tyler Madero run the top section of the course as straight as he did I told the Mammoth coach to be prepared for a leader change,” coach Billy Barnwell said.
After a season of struggling in the Northern Series races, just getting edged off the top of the podium, it was a relief when the Mammoth coach yelled up to the Heavenly pit area that she had to give this one to Heavenly. Madero was the new leader.
With only four or five racers left to go it appeared this young man had finally bested the best — from Squaw Valley, Mammoth, Northstar, Kirkwood, Sugar Bowl, Diamond Peak, Mount Rose and Snow Summit.
“In a race which measures and tests your nerve at every turn he proved to be unflappable,” Billy Barnwell said.
On Sunday, with the race being run in the morning and without getting a training run, the course would prove to be firm and unforgiving. With about five runs under the belt of most of these racers, coaches wanted to see how much the racers had retained from jus two days of speed training and racing. There was a divide of those racers who still had a healthy sense of fear and respect for the course and those who were taking it more lightly.
“Sunday’s course firmness and the choice to run Gunnar Barnwell on a longer ski proved to be a mistake. Also the choice of sending the skis out for prep work and not supervising the ski prep was a bad mistake,” Billy Barnwell said.
Both boys ran on Madero’s longer giant slalom skis, which were running too loose. While loose is fast and means the skis will glide great and handle in soft snow, the snow never got soft Sunday. Madero and Barnwell were all over the place down Waterfall, barley hanging on into the chicane.
It was Tyler Loll from Kirkwood, who surprised the field on Sunday. Loll posted a time of 1:10:39, four seconds off the leader, placing him on the podium in third place. He beat Madero by almost a full second. MJ Allen improved a full two seconds over his previous day, posting the most improved time with a 1:26:34. Madero finished in fourth place (1:11:34), and Barnwell finished in 36th (1:21:39). After three days of blistering speeds down the mountain in glacier like conditions, the boys returned home to get ready for the finals at Squaw Valley on March 30 and 31.