GIRDWOOD, Alaska (AP) – The podium for the giant slalom at the 2009 U.S. Alpine Championships looked a lot like it did last year.

Tim Jitloff blazed down the course at Alyeska Resort with the two fastest times of the day and won his second straight giant slalom championship. Tommy Ford of Bend, Ore., was second and Warner Nickerson of Gilford, N.H., was third, to repeat last year’s finish at Sugarloaf, Maine.

“To go back-to-back is pretty special,” said Jitloff, 24, of Truckee, Calif. “I was thinking about it last night and I was thinking, ‘Man, I don’t want to go down without a fight.”‘

Jitloff, starting fourth, completed his first run in 1 minute, 10.38 seconds. “It snowed over a hundred inches here so it’s definitely soft and a little bit challenging to ski the way you normally want to,” he said after taking the lead.

He just completed his first full season on the World Cup circuit.

, where courses are injected with water and racers are on smooth, fast, icy tracks.

The top 30 finishers start in reverse order for the second run.

“In the first run, I started really early, so we were just making that track. If you got into any trouble, you didn’t really have anything to push off.

“I knew this run coming in, because I’ve raced it a couple of times, there would be a good track and something to really work with, push, develop speed, and that’s all I was focusing on that run. I wasn’t trying to be too aggressive, because the snow is soft.”

He did the second run more than three seconds faster in 1:07.35, for a combined time of 2:17.73 seconds.

Jitloff said he didn’t watch the women’s giant slalom Monday to see how they came down the mountain.

“I was sleeping yesterday,” he said, laughing. “I was getting some rest. I’m at the end of the season here. I’m pretty much out of gas.”

Ford was fourth after the first run but beat Nickerson by 0.38 seconds in the second to finish in 2:18.48. Nickerson’s total time was 2:18.67.

“The course was pretty turny for the conditions,” Ford said. “You turn across the hill a lot longer than normal courses. It’s a lot slower, kind of painful and brutal. It’s a lot more tiring. You have slower, longer turns instead of quick, sharp turns.”

It was the last race of the year for Ford, 20, who will start his second semester at Dartmouth College next week.

Local race fans had a moment of excitement when University of Alaska Anchorage skier Halfdan Falkum-Hansen posted the second fastest time in the first run, just 0.14 seconds behind Jitloff.

The 22-year-old native of Oslo, Norway, a freshman, was a part of an Alaska Anchorage team that finished fourth in the NCAA Championships.

The team trains on the lower half of the course, but if he had a home course advantage, Falkum-Hansen said, it was in knowing the snow rather than the mountain.

In the second run, Falkum-Hansen skied aggressively but touched his hip on the seventh gate and lost time. He finished in fifth place, behind Will Gregorak of Longmont, Colo.

Jitloff also earned the combined championship by virtue of finishing with the best overall times in the downhill and slalom Saturday and Sunday.

He said he plans to fly home for five days, do his taxes, then travel to Costa Rica for two weeks on a surfing trip before starting training for next season, with an eye toward the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The World Cup circuit was eye-opening, he said, not just for how taxing it was, but for what it will take to reach the top of the sport.

“Every time you’re out there, you learn something new,” Jitloff said. “The best guys in the world, they’re grown men, they’re 30 years old, they’ve been doing it a long time.”

He’s optimistic the U.S. men will do well next year and beyond.

“We have a good chunk of guys who have been progressing together over the years. They’re all right around my age, 24, 25, right in there.

“If our team and our management stays patient, and stays with us, I think we can have great success not only next year at both the World Cup level and the Olympics, but even more so in the coming years after that, at the next Olympics.”

AP-ES-03-31-09 2126EDT

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