2 Summit locals qualify to represent Team USA at first Youth Olympic ski mountaineering competition
Summit duo shines at Eldora to earn trip to Switzerland in January
DILLON — After more than a year of ski mountaineering training and anticipation, Summit locals Grace Staberg and Jeremiah Vaille qualified this past weekend to represent the United States at January’s Youth Winter Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland.
At Saturday and Sunday’s respective individual and sprint races at Eldora Mountain Resort, the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association selected two boys and two girls to represent the red, white and blue. Selections were based on top combined results from the races.
The individual race consisted of three laps up and down Eldora, totaling 2,300 feet of elevation gain, while the sprint race lasted just a few minutes as athletes skinned and boot-packed vertically before skiing down the race course.
Summit High School senior Staberg skied away with Saturday’s individual race, finishing about 20 minutes ahead of her nearest competitor. That put her in great position to qualify with her top-two finish Sunday, when she was runner-up to Samantha Paisley of Salt Lake City, who will be the other U.S. female ski mountaineering athlete in Switzerland.
“I felt really smooth throughout the race,” Staberg said. “And I do think that since it was just laps on Eldora’s resort, not any off-piste skiing, that it was largely based on fitness. I felt like I got a really good gap from the start. I was able to keep a good pace for the whole time.”
Vaille, who along with Staberg was an all-state honoree for Summit High School cross-country running this autumn, finished runner-up at Saturday’s individual race.
“We started fast but not too fast,” Vaille said. “We all settled into our pace pretty quick. Through most of the first lap, all of the boys were pretty close together. I was right with George Beck, who won that race. … After the first lap on the downhill, we separated a little bit, and on our way up, George took off somehow and got way ahead of me. I just tried closing in on him. I kept him in my sight for most of the rest of the race.”
In effectively the bubble spot heading into Sunday’s sprint race, Vaille said he was much more nervous ahead of the sprint. Until working with Summit Endurance Academy and coach Joe Howdyshell recently, Vaille said his strengths as a skier lied in his endurance fitness from cross-country running. But thanks to improved skills transitioning from his skins, to boot-pack hikes to downhill skiing, Vaille was able to race fast enough Sunday to win the sprint and secure the second and final spot on the boys team with Aspen’s Beck.
“Going into Sunday, I knew I’d worked for it,” Vaille said. “All my training was just right for it. But I was still really nervous. I’d never done a sprint race before, ever.”
Other Summit County locals who competed this past weekend include Connor Albin, Sam Burke and Elsa Bates, who all qualified for and represented the United States at last year’s International Ski Mountaineering Federation World Championships in Villars sur Ollon, Switzerland.
Ski mountaineering’s inclusion at this year’s Youth Winter Olympics from Jan 9-22 is a first, meaning Staberg and Vaille will be the first Americans to compete for the U.S. in the sport. Summit Endurance Academy and U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association head coach Joe Howdyshell, of Breckenridge, will be the team’s lead coach at the games.
“I was super ecstatic to be named to the team,” Vaille said. “I’ve always looked up to athletes like Grace and George, who I’m on the team with now. I’m honored to be a part of a team with those amazing people.”
When Staberg and Vaille get to Switzerland, they’ll be racing on a familiar course. January’s individual, sprint and mixed relay races will take place on the same trails in Villars sur Ollon where Staberg, Vaille and the rest of the Summit County contingent competed last winter. The individual races are scheduled for Jan. 10, the day after the opening ceremony. The sprint races are scheduled for Jan. 13 with the mixed relay slated for Jan. 14.
At last year’s World Championships, Staberg was one of the United States’ brightest stars, finishing in sixth place in the girls individual cadet race. Vaille finished 24th of 49 skiers in the boys cadet vertical race.
This week is Staberg’s final training week here on the homefront at Breckenridge Ski Resort and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area before she gears up to live and train for the winter in Europe with American ski mountaineer Sierra Anderson, of Summit County. Once in Europe two weeks from now, Staberg said she’ll compete in the French Championships and a World Cup event in France before turning her attention to the Youth Winter Olympics, where she has her sights set on a top-five finish.
Vaille said his goal is to finish in the top half of the field in Switzerland after spending the next few weeks dialing in final details with Howdyshell.
Staberg and Vaille said training with Summit Endurance Academy and running with the Summit High School Tigers this autumn has prepared them both well. If their fitness in January is as good as it is now, both are confident they can reach their goals.
“Right from cross-country season I had the great fitness to race so well,” Vaille said. “If I can kind of stay where I’m at, I feel pretty good.”
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