U.S. Alpine Championships: The grind is real

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CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Michael Ankeny’s U.S. Alpine Championships experience ended early Tuesday with a DNF during the first run of the men’s giant slalom.

Other than the physically grueling act of skiing down a hill really fast, that’s a short work day.

However, Ankeny said, “I’m pretty tired today.”

High-level ski racers spend the year globetrotting from one of the world’s most fabulous ski mountains to another. That may seem like a dream come true to to many Americans, and it obviously is to ski racers, too, but with it comes a grind.

There’s always points to gain, money to earn.

Take Ankeny and AJ Ginnis, for example. The U.S. Ski Team teammates used their off-day during the U.S. Alpine Championships to chase some points in Canada.

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The U.S. Nationals ran from Saturday through Tuesday at Sugarloaf. On the men’s team’s day off, Ankeny and Ginnis drove with their coach, Ian Lochhead, to Mont-Tremblant in Quebec to crash the Canadian Nationals.

It was a rapid-fire adventure.

Ginnis won the U.S. slalom championship and Ankeny placed third Sunday at Sugarloaf. They received their awards and then drove more than five hours to Quebec, where they arrived at about 10 p.m.

The next morning, they raced in a particularly taxing Canadian slalom.

“Each run was over a minute long for slalom, which is long for ski racing,” Ankeny said. “Plus, it was pouring rain, so it kind of just fatigues you.”

But Ginnis and Ankeny conquered Canada’s course. Ginnis won his second national title in two days, and Ankeny placed second to reach a national podium for the second day in a row.

“We were happy to hop in a car, go, and kind of battle it out with some of the Canadians that we’ve been racing with all season, and able to oust them at the end,” Ankeny said.

“AJ won again,” Ankeny added. “He’s skiing really well right now. He’s fast. I was trying to reel him in, but he had an amazing second run.”

Slalom is Ginnis’ and Ankeny’s top event, so their double-podiums make the four days at Sugarloaf (and beyond) a success. Their hot streaks ended Tuesday on the fog-smothered Narrow Gauge giant slalom course.

Ankeny entered the giant slalom with the 11th highest seeding points, but he did not finish his first run. Ginnis was seeded 49th, and he did not start his first run.

The foggy conditions hampered visibility — at one point during the second run, a visibility hold was called for — and 42 out of 94 skiers earned DNFs on their first or second runs.

One of those was Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who entered the second run in first place, and with a comfortable half-second lead over Tim Jitloff.

Jitloff finished second to Hig Roberts. He said it was a tough race for the end of the season.

“I think both runs today were very challenging for us,”Jitloff said, “especially this time of year when a lot of us are pretty tired and would probably just as easily go for a 50-second course in the sun.”

Another first-run DNF went to Carrabassett Valley’s own Sam Morse.

Morse raced in NorAm’s at Sugarloaf last week, then the U.S. Alpine Championships, and will stick around and race Junior Nationals later this week.

Morse said he’s been traveling and ski racing non-stop since December. That includes a Junior World Championship in the downhill, which earned him a spot at the World Cup finale in Aspen, Colorado. After competing there, he went to Quebec for NorAm races, then came to Sugarloaf for NorAm finals.

“I haven’t sat down and counted, but I am at about start 52, maybe, give or take. So that’s just a lot of racing,” Morse said.

“I’m ready for a break.”

Breaks will come for some skiers, but others have a few more spring series races in their respective regions.

Then comes the break, but it doesn’t last long.

“Easter weekend, traveling to Europe,” U.S. Ski Team men’s coach Sasha Rearick said.

“Spring camp in Norway. Right back to it,” Ankeny said. “You want to hit training when you’re in ski shape still. It is mentally tough because you’ve had a long season, and you kind of want to just take a little bit of a break now. But if you’re in skiing shape, it’s a great time to test equipment, get everything dialed in for next season.”

Michael Ankeny skis down the side of the course after DNFing during his first Giant Slalom race of the US Alpine Championships.Local favorite Sam Morse skids out of the course to a DNF about two thrids of the way through the course on his first run of the Giant Slalom at the US ALpine Championships on Tuesday at Sugarloaf.Local favorite Sam Morse skids out of the course to a DNF about two thrids of the way through the course on his first run of the Giant Slalom at the US ALpine Championships on Tuesday at Sugarloaf.

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