Summit County ski mountaineering athletes win five national titles at Sunlight Ski Area | SummitDaily.com

Summit County ski mountaineering athletes win five national titles at Sunlight Ski Area

Summit County ski mountaineering athletes won five U.S. National Championship races at Sunlight Ski Area in Glenwood Springs this past weekend, while 14 total athletes have qualified to represent the United States at March's International Ski Mountaineering Federation World Championships in Villars sur Ollon, Switzerland, scheduled for March 9-16.

On Saturday at Sunlight, Summit's Sierra Anderson won the senior women's sprint race, while Finn Remias won the junior men's division race and Grace Staberg won the cadet women's race.

On Sunday, Staberg captured her second national championship in the cadet women's individual race while her fellow Summit High multisport star Max Bonenberger won the junior men's individual race.

Racing conditions for the sprint on Saturday at Sunlight consisted of bluebird skies on a course that also included an ascent through moguls — unique for ski mountaineering sprint races. Athletes sped through the time trial course one by one before they were seeded into semifinal or final heats, depending on the number of competitors.

Anderson won the senior women's national championship with a dash to the finish line down the home stretch, showcasing her trademark competitiveness and aggression.

"She is still new to the sport," said U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association president and Summit County resident Ram Mikulas, "and the sprint takes a very technical athlete because the transitions are so important. On the final descent, she was right in second place, and it wasn't until the last final turn in the final sprint that she passed to take first."

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Staberg shone once again after performing well throughout the winter at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area's Rise and Shine Rando race series and at the A-Basin national team qualifying race last month. Mikulas said he often sees Staberg out training with other Summit County skimo regulars around 6 a.m. at A-Basin, working to improve her craft. But once A-Basin shuts down its lifts for the day — typically the time when most ski mountaineers leave — Staberg doesn't stop.

"It's really neat to see an athlete, especially that young, be that dedicated, and it shows in her results," Mikulas said. "She is the national champion in both of her disciplines. What's interesting is she'll extend her training. At A-Basin, you can skin most parts of the open mountain up until the lifts start turning. Once they open the mountain (to non-skinners), you can only go up to mid-mountain. But she's that kind of person when, once the resort opens, she'll continue to do laps back and forth to mid-mountain, which can be repetitive and boring. But it goes to show how dedicated she is and how hard she's working."

The national championship individual race took place on Sunday at Sunlight, after about 3 inches of snow fell on the mountain overnight with snowfall continuing throughout the day. Mikulas described the individual race course as "very challenging," as it jaunted out of Sunlight's bounds to the top of Williams Peak outside before returning to in-bounds terrain.

"A lot of challenging off-piste skiing," Mikulas said. "Overall, the course was very technical and it ended up taking folks a little bit longer this year than has in years past. But it was a great day of racing."

Via the race, the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association selected its top eight men and women to compete in the team event for the U.S. at March's World Championships. In total — spread across the team, individual, vertical and sprint races — 30 of the 40 athletes hail from Colorado, including 14 from Summit County. Other racers hail from Montana, Utah, New Mexico and Washington.

"It's a testament to the access to training at the ski resorts," Mikulas said of the Summit County contingent, "and all of the race series here at Breck and A-Basin. It's really become an epicenter for ski mountaineering racing, so we are really happy."

The 14 Summit County athletes who will represent the United States at March's world championships in Switzerland include senior racers Anderson, Kate Zander, Nikki LaRochelle and Jaime Brede. In the junior division, Summit High's Remias, Bonenberger and Sam Wescott will compete. The county will send its largest group in the cadet division, including Staberg, Elsa Bates, Sam Burke, Mark Jardim, Paul Hans, Connor Albin and Jeremiah Vaille. The vast majority of the junior and cadet athletes named to the national team train are competing for Summit Endurance Academy, coached by Breckenridge local Joe Howdyshell.

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