Megan McJames hammers down the Giant Slalom course on Monday at the US Alpine Championships on Monday at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley. McJames won the Ladies Giant Slalom.
CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Megan McJames said she likes to be the underdog.
She entered this year’s U.S. Alpine Championships at Sugarloaf as one — a competitor who wasn’t on the U.S. Ski Team.
After the first run of the women’s giant slalom on Monday, McJames found herself as the skier to beat with a blistering first run in difficult conditions.
Driving wind and snow/sleet made for tough sledding on the third day of competition.
The unfamiliarity of being in first position didn’t matter for McJames, who was even faster on her second run to capture her first national title in an individual event.
“I like chasing, I like being the underdog, so being the one to be chased is challenging,” McJames said. “But it’s a good position to be in, a good problem to have.”
McJames put down a first run of 1:08.10, which was just 0.03 seconds ahead of Foreste Peterson. After a delay between the first and second runs due to the weather McJames went last of the top 30 skiers from the first run, and she was 0.30 seconds faster than Peterson to clinch the giant slalom crown.
“I think for me today, the weather was challenging, but the surface of the snow was really good,” McJames said. “So I just had to focus on that and focus on charging because I really wanted a national title.”
A former national team member, McJames has been skiing as an independent for the past four years. That means oftentimes paying for expenses herself.
“My boyfriend is a retired World Cup skier, so him and another coach have helped me out. But it’s been pretty much me and Team Megan,” McJames said. “The Western region is behind me today, and my family has never questioned me after being cut from the national team and becoming an independent skier.”
Peterson also is a non-national team skier who competes for Dartmouth College. That college experience has allowed her to ski Sugarloaf before, and Peterson said she feels “pretty comfortable on this hill.”
She proved that Monday, putting down the second-fastest times in each run for her first Nationals podium.
“I’m totally excited about it,” Peterson said. “Megan and I were pretty close after first run, so I knew that I had to just give it my all for the second run, and Megan skied really well both runs, so she deserves it.”
Peterson had one of the longest waits between runs. She was the second skier out in the first run, then the second to last of the contenders in the second — with a weather delay in between.
“I came down (first run) and I was two seconds ahead (of Galena Wardle), so I knew that I must have had a decent run. And then I watched more girls go, and Megan came down and she was three-hundredths ahead of me, so I was like ‘alright, this is going to be a good race,'” Peterson said. “And then going into second run, starting 29th, it was definitely a little tough because there was long course holds. So it was kind of a long waiting game.”
Neither Peterson nor McJames did a lot of waiting to get down the hill on their runs. Despite seeing dozens of other competitors go down, the two top finishers said they “went for it.”
“For me, how I think about it is you do a really good inspection, you know where you have to be smart, and go everywhere else,” McJames said.
Third-place finisher Patricia Mangan, the highest-placing U.S. Ski Team member, agreed.
“Just kind of send it, not really worry about the weather, leave everything I had on the hill,” Mangan said. “Obviously everyone behind was still super fast, so I knew that in order to keep it I had to lay it out, which is what I tried to do.”
Mangan finished in a combined time of 2:06.85 to finish comfortably between Peterson and fourth-place Wardle.
The second runs for most skiers were 10 seconds faster than the first after race officials moved the starting gate down the hill due to safety concerns.
“It was some of the craziest conditions I think I’ve ever raced in, with the freezing rain, wind, low visibility,” Peterson said.
Both the super-G winner (Laurenne Ross) and slalom winner (Resi Stiegler) from the weekend fell in their first runs. There were more DNFs in the second run, and some skiers, longtime National team member Stacey Cook among them, chose not to take a second run.
Lila Lapanja said she was given that option, but decided to ski a second time anyways, and finished eighth.
Colby College skier Mardi Haskell was just outside the top 10, in 11th.
There were 27 DNFs in the first run, and only 24 of the 66 entrants completed two runs cleanly.
Galena Wardel skis her second Giant Slalom run of the day at the US Alpine Championships on Monday at Sugarloaf.Jennie Symons skis down her second run of the Ladies Giant Slalom in the US Alpine Championships on Monday at Sugarloaf.Nadine Levey skis down her first run of the Ladies Giant Slalom on Monday at Sugarloaf during the US Alpine Championships.