Far West skiers qualify for Whistler Cup at J3 Junior Championships | SierraSun.com

Far West skiers qualify for Whistler Cup at J3 Junior Championships

Zeev Gur
Special to the Sun
and Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun
Courtesy of Zeev Gur / zflow.smugmug.comScotty Lebel of Sugar Bowl speeds down the super G course on Exhibition en route to one his two wins during the Western Region Marriott J3 Junior Championships held at Squaw Valley from March 17-19. For more photos from the event, go to zflow.smugmug.com.

SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. and#8212; The best young alpine ski racers in the West were put to the test this past weekend as Squaw Valley hosted the Western Region Marriott J3 Junior Championships and#8212; commonly referred to as the Junior Olympics.

Competing Thursday through Saturday in conditions that varied from blue-bird to blizzard, four Far West skiers from the Lake Tahoe area qualified with top finishes to compete in the 23rd annual Whistler Cup next month. They include James and#8220;Scottyand#8221; Lebel from Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley racers Cody Wilson, Garrett Driller and Marie Johnson.

In all there were 92 boys and 77 girls who qualified to compete in the Junior Olympics from the Western Region of the United States, which includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Nevada and Montana.

They all dealt with the same challenging conditions as Squaw Valley organizers worked tirelessly to keep up with grooming during one of the biggest storm cycles of the year.

and#8220;These events were really tested by Mother Nature,and#8221; said Lee Schmidt, head coach of the Squaw Valley Ski Team, explaining how the heavy snowfall combined with strong winds and soft snow conditions created tough racing for all.

and#8220;Squaw Valley Ski Corporation made an amazing effort with mountain support and extensive grooming to make this event even happen,and#8221; Schmidt said. and#8220;It was a very exciting event to watch. This race venue was very challenging.and#8221;

The storm proved too much by the final day of racing, however, and Sunday’s women’s giant slalom was canceled due to the extreme weather.

Day 1, Thursday, marked the super G, the fastest of all the events on the Exhibition course.

It was quite the sight to see racers coming down from the KT-22 chair, in knee-deep powder with race skis on their backs. Due to all the new snow, the course demanded a soft touch on the skis and no sudden pressure changes.

On the women’s side, Breezy Johnson (Rowmark Ski Academy, Utah) posted the fastest time, followed by Johnson and Stephanie Lebby (Squaw Valley). Lebel recorded the fastest time in the men’s field and was trailed by Driller and Addison Dvoracek.

Friday offered a and#8220;breakand#8221; in the storm, and two races were run on different parts of the mountain.

The women competed in a slalom on Red Dog, a very steep and challenging course, with Isabella Wright (Jackson Hole, Wyo.) setting the pace, followed by Sierra Ryder (Squaw Valley) and Erica Christian (Bridger Bowl, Mont.).

The men competed in a giant slalom race run on Exhibition. Lebel took the win for the second time in as many days and was followed again by Driller as Erik Arvidsson (Squaw Valley) rounded out the podium in third.

On Saturday the men ran a slalom on Exhibition in what proved to be one of the most challenging races due to all the new snow and#8212; a bit like running a race on moguls.

Wilson led the pack and was followed by Driller and Chris Astle (Snowbird, Utah) rounding out the top three.

In the combined, Driller captured the top spot among men with his solid collective performance, while Lebel and Wilson followed in second and third, respectively. For women, Wright took the combined win as Johnson was second and Lebby third.

and#8220;Very impressive results from the Far West Division,and#8221; said Schmidt.

Finally, after all that racing, the young skiers (ages 13-14) and their parents were rewarded with some of the best powder skiing in the world to cap the weekend after Sunday’s cancellation.

The four Tahoe skiers who qualified for the Whistler Cup and#8212; Lebel, Wilson, Driller and Johnson and#8212; will join qualified racers from more than 25 other countries in British Columbia from April 3-11.

Team USA is represented by only three boys and three girls from each of the three regions of the country and#8212; Western Region, Rocky/Central and Eastern. Athletes, in most cases, must win a Junior Olympic event (super G, giant slalom or slalom) to be able to attend the prestigious International Children’s Event.

and#8212; Information for this article was provided by Squaw Valley Ski Team Head Coach Lee Schmidt. Co-author Zeev Gur is the father of a Far West ski racer, Johanna Gur, and Tahoe-based photographer. Visit his website at zflow.smugmug.com for more photos.

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