Squaw Valley’s AJ Hurt podiums at 7 Nations Cup
COURCHEVEL, France — Alix Wilkinson and AJ Hurt, a freshman at North Tahoe High School and standout racer with the Squaw Valley Ski Team, led a talented group of U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association U16 National Training Group athletes in the 7 Nations Cup in Courchevel, France, last week.
Highlights included a second-place finish by Hurt in the giant slalom, a slalom victory by Wilkinson, who beat the field by over a second, and a seventh-place finish by Ben Ritchie in the slalom.
One day before Wilkinson crushed the competition in slalom, the Park City racer had a rough training day, while the day before the GS, Hurt skied out in the slalom.
“To see both athletes really step up to the plate, block all of that out and move forward was very impressive,” said John Cashman, head coach of the U16 National Training Group. “Our athletes did really, really well — especially Alix and AJ.”
Hurt was having a great run in slalom before going out eight gates before the finish. That was “a little bit of a heartbreak,” as Cashman described it. But it didn’t seem to slow her down.
Though Mother Nature dumped fresh snow on the eve of both events, sunshine greeted athletes on both days and the race crew had a daunting task on their hands. In an almost World Cup-like fashion, a crew of 40 used a combination of machines and manpower to push all the fresh snow off the track. In the end, they were successful and the whole event went off without a hitch.
“It was really first class,” Cashman said.
Prior to the event, the U16s spent some valuable time training in Europe, experiencing just about every kind of weather and snow conditions possible, from full-on rain in Germany to a rock-hard surface in Kitzbuehel. Cashman believes this preparation enabled the group to feel comfortable in varied conditions and ultimately set them up for success in Courchevel at the 7 Nations Cup.
“The courses held up well here in Courchevel, but I think they were just comfortable being here in Europe and it showed,” Cashman said. “We had several other athletes that were in the flip each day and it was really good. As a whole, the group has some depth and there are some young ’01 birth years that garnered some really great experience being here.”
Now in its fourth season, the 7 Nations Cup is hosted by a different nation in Europe each year. It is a good international test for the U.S. U16 racers, with deep competition from the strong central European nations. The U.S. U16s now have five top-five finishes since the event’s inception.