Representing the region
As if the Tahoe area wasn’t represented well enough in the 11th annual Winter X Games, last weekend’s Jabra X Jam at Sugar Bowl set up a few more local athletes with the opportunity to perform on the big stage.
The final event to earn an invitation to X Games 11, the Skier-X and Boarder-X contest qualified 11 racers as well as four alternates to compete in Aspen, Colo., from Jan. 25-28. Three of the 11 call Tahoe home ” snowboarders Ralph Backstrom and Kirsten Harris, both of Squaw Valley, and South Lake Tahoe’s Dena Melinn-Waller ” and they’ll be joining nine others in Aspen who can say the same.
Those who had already been invited include the following: Chaz Guldemond of Carnelian Bay; Andy Finch and Daron Rahlves of Truckee; Jayson Hale of Sugar Bowl; Nate Holland of Squaw Valley; and South Lake Tahoe riders Jamie and Joanie Anderson, Elena Hight and Shaun Palmer.
For the final three riders who made the cut this past weekend, the Jabra X Jam served as a boon of sorts.
“I’m really excited. I was invited last year but I got hurt. It was really, really disappointed, so this feels like redemption for me,” said Harris, a 28-year-old boardercross racer who has traded off living between Truckee and Squaw for the past five years. “It feels really good finally getting to go, and to go in one piece.”
Harris finished runner-up in the women’s Boarder-X to Melinn-Waller, who at age 34 has two top-12 X Games finishes in her four career appearances. She, too, feels fortunate for her late entry into the Games. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t expect to advance.
“I thought I had a good chance, but there were definitely a couple of girls who were fast and good racers,” Melinn-Waller said. “I’ve been working hard this season, and I’m happy to be back in the X Games.”
Backstrom, the 23-year-old brother of professional big-mountain rider Ingrid Backstrom, placed second in the men’s Boarder-X to secure a spot in his first X Games. He knows what kind of competition will be waiting in Aspen.
“I’m excited, but I’m pretty sure that in the first heat I’ll be up against Nate Holland and all those guys,” he said. “I imagine I’ll be seeded last.”
About his goals entering the X Games, Backstrom said he’d be happy to make it past the first heat against the top boardercross riders in the world. About winning: “I think that’s probably a little bit of a long shot,” he said.
“I’m definitely nervous. Right now I’m trying to figure out the logistics of getting there and finding a place to stay,” Backstrom said, adding that lodging in Aspen may run somewhere between $600 and $700 a night. “It’s a great opportunity to get my name out there. But if it doesn’t work out I’m just going to continue to snowboard like I have been.”
Harris, a four-year veteran of boardercross competition, has had her sights set on qualifying for the X Games for quite some time. And after suffering multiple injuries in competition the past year ” she has a bum elbow and was cleared by her doctor to race the Tuesday before the event ” Harris knows this may be her last shot.
“A big goal of mine for this season was to qualify in this race. Not getting to go to the X Games after being invited (last year) left a bad taste in my mouth,” she said.
“Qualifying has been a really big goal for me. It feels good to accomplish that.”
No matter what happens in Aspen, Harris intends to make the most of her opportunity.
“I’m not putting too much pressure on myself, except just to have fun and be safe,” she said. “I don’t expect to come in dead last, though. Making it to the finals would be good. Crossing the finish line first would be cloud 9.”
While none of the three Tahoe locals made any bold predictions about bringing home gold, Melinn-Waller perhaps stated it best.
“You never know,” she said … “anything can happen on any given day.”
Jeremy Evans contributed to this report.