Winter Park - Team Summit has been well represented at the U.S. Alpine Championships in Winter Park this week. The event, which is taking place just on the other side of a couple mountain passes, draws the best ski racers in the country for one last hurrah in the competition season.
Among those skiing for Team Summit are Conor McDonald, Miranda Sheely and Nicole Anderson - all of whom are true locals, not transplants. Mark Miller, of Dillon, is also racing this week for the University of New Mexico.
"This is the culmination of the whole season," said Team Summit coach Tyler Johnson. "The national championships are awesome. It lets these kids see how they stand next to the world's best. It gives them a great opportunity to see how they rank up, and it shows them where they can make improvements."
All three of the current Team Summit racers are in the J1 age group (17-19 years of age). They've been racing against the likes of Tommy Ford, Andrew Weibrecht, Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso.
Every turn this season is a bonus for lifelong Copper Mountain local Conor McDonald, who is coming off of serious back surgery: an L5 S1 disc fusion, which included eight screws, two rods and a "chunk of plastic." That was in June, and McDonald, who is a prospect of the U.S. Ski Team, didn't expect to race very hard, or at all, this winter.
"This year, I wasn't even really supposed to be skiing, so it's just cool to be here," McDonald said. "I wasn't supposed to be on snow until February of this year, but I had a really fast recovery. I was on snow in December and was able to get a few races in January. ... It's still healing; it'll take about a year. "
In this week's slalom, McDonald started 49th and finished 29th, a remarkable improvement, especially considering the warm snow conditions.
"(McDonald) only got half a season in, but when he came back, he was immediately right back to his old form," said Johnson. "That enabled him to get to this level, to get into nationals. Even with the injury, he was able to jump right back on the horse."
McDonald qualified for the U.S. Ski Team last year, but was unable to attend the tryout camp due to the surgery. However, this year, the racer plans to take part in the team's summer camps in Chile. If that doesn't work out for whatever reason, McDonald is also scoping college prospects, perhaps in Alaska or Montana.
Anderson has already been accepted to Dartmouth and will eventually race on the school's prestigious ski team, but not until she's good and ready. There might be another year of competition on the FIS circuit before she hangs up the speed skis for collegiate GS and slalom racing at the old Dartmouth Skiway.
Anderson has had some stellar results this week, improving from a 47th start position to finish 29th in the slalom. She went on to finish 31st in the super-G.
"It was hard up top and very peely, and then sugary down low. The snow got really soft down at the bottom part of the course," Anderson said. "I came here last year, and (the conditions) are really different. But it's a lot of fun."
Anderson is also coming back from injury, a dislocated wrist and broken hand in December, which required surgery and slowed down her season a bit.
"I have a spot on the (Dartmouth) team, so I just have to decide if I want to go this year or next year. I can defer a year and do another year of PG skiing," she said.
"Anderson has been on everybody's radar for quite some time," said Johnson. "She's always in the hunt. She's a good skier. She's got a good head on her shoulders, and she's a hard worker."
Passing a milestone in a ski-racing career is always nice. It's even better if you can do it twice in a row. For Team Summer ripper Sheely, it was winning a FIS race, which she did on back-to-back occasions in Telluride.
Sheely also qualified early in the season for all the FIS-Us (which feature college-age racers). This week is her first rodeo at the national championship.
"It's been going really well. I trained really hard this summer," Sheely said. "This is my first time at nationals. It's cool, but it's also a little overwhelming. I get really nervous."
In Friday's super-G, Sheely moved up from 55th to 45th on inconsistent snow. In the slalom Wednesday, she improved from 58th to 36th.