Alpine Champs return to Squaw Valley
Olympic Valley – For the first time in 22 years, the alpine skiing national championships are returning to Squaw Valley USA.
Adding to what already looks to be a momentous year for the resort, Squaw Valley will host the races in mid-March, two weeks after the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics are scheduled to end.
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and the ski resort are expected to reach an official agreement this week that would solidify the 2002 Chevy Truck U.S. Alpine Championships coming to Tahoe.
The Park City-based association held last year’s national championships at Big Mountain in Whitefish, Mont., which was expected to be this year’s venue as well. However, after a drought season, Big Mountain officials determined they couldn’t host the championships due to financial reasons. After considering resorts in Colorado and Alaska, USSA chose Squaw Valley.
“It’s a great venue. The biggest challenge is finding an adequate downhill, and obviously Squaw has one,” said Sarah Bergstrom, Alpine events manager for USSA.
Squaw Valley’s race director, Gary Pedersen, credited the resort’s diligence, and the USSA-sanctioned events and Ford Downhill Series it previously hosted in winning the bid. It also bodes well for possible future events, he said.
“The more of this kind of stuff you do, the more credibility it gives you in this business,” Pedersen said. “It’s a prestige to say you’ve hosted the U.S. Nationals, the highest level amateur ski race in the United States.”
In addition to the prestige, Pedersen said, the championships occur after the Olympics, which gives spectators a chance to watch Olympic-caliber racers, and possibly even an Olympic medalist. The entire U.S. Alpine team is expected to compete, including Daron Rahlves of Truckee and other local athletes such as South Lake Tahoe’s Jonna Mendes and Marco Sullivan and Julia Mancuso, both of Tahoe City.
The last time Squaw Valley hosted the event was 1980, also following the Lake Placid, N.Y., Olympic Games.
“We’re excited because this is a new venue for us. Things have changed a lot since we were there last. It’s a really challenging hill, and spectator access is really good,” Bergstrom said.
The championships will be earlier than usual this year, with athletes arriving for training March 10. The first event will be the downhill for men and women on March 14. The final race will be the men’s giant slalom March 19. The downhill will be held on the Olympic Lady and Exhibition runs and the Super G and giant slalom events will also be off KT-22.
Squaw Valley isn’t the only resort involved. Sugar Bowl Ski Resort will host the men’s and women’s slalom Sunday, March 17. The reason for the shift, according to Bergstrom, is because the course takes a particular beating when the men’s and women’s slalom is raced on the same day.
“We probably have one of the best slalom hills in the state right now, if not the country,” said Greg Murtha, director of marketing and sales at Sugar Bowl. Murtha added that in terms of logistics it’s easier to work with another resort to deliver the best possible package. Squaw Valley and Sugar Bowl co-hosted the Junior Olympics in 2000.
The coming ski season should be a big year for Squaw Valley, with the opening of Intrawest’s Village at Squaw Valley, the Olympic torch passing through the before it stops in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics and now the U.S. Nationals.
While Squaw Valley and USSA will cooperate in shouldering the financial burden for the championships, the amount of visitors should be a boon to local business.
“The people coming associated with it, the athletes, the parents, the technicians, the officials – it’s quite a large group visiting just by themselves,” Pedersen said.
ESPN will also cover the event, Pedersen said, adding the national press coverage should be great.
“We haven’t done anything like in this in 20 years and it’s a different animal now,” he said. “It’ll be a great thing.”
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Roughly 5,000 athletes will descend upon Olympic Valley this weekend for the Spartan North American Championship.