Summit County youth ski mountaineers Bonenberger, Staberg, Vaille win at Aspen national championship
A day after the annual Audi Power of Four ski mountaineering race in Aspen, three Summit County youth ski mountaineers won their respective divisions at a U.S. national championship ski mountaineering vertical race up Aspen Mountain on Sunday.
Max Bonenberger of Breckenridge won the junior men’s division (ages 18-20), while Jeremiah Vaille of Summit Cove won the cadet men’s division (17-and-under) and Grace Staberg of Silverthorne won the cadet women’s division.
For the trio, this was their final ski mountaineering event before they fly off to Villars sur Ollon, Switzerland later this week to represent Team USA at the 2019 International Ski Mountaineering Federation World Championships.
Both Staberg and Vaille described the 1,940-foot elevation gain vertical race as difficult, as the course’s climb up the belly of Aspen Mountain, underneath the Silver Queen Gondola, felt particularly steep to the pair of Summit High School juniors.
They competed in whiteout conditions during the monster of a weekend storm that dumped feet of fresh powder all across the Rockies. That meant the leaders of the pack had to break trail within that whiteout for their competitors behind them.
“I would assume for the top guys that was incredibly hard,” Staberg said, “because they had to go through the 2 feet before everyone else had.”
The inclement conditions led to a finish where Staberg said it was hard to spot the finish gate with all of the fresh, early morning snowfall. Staberg and Vaille also said the copious amount of powder meant they had to adjust their racing technique a little bit. For Vaille, that meant less of a tempered slide from one skin to another up the mountain, instead opting for more of a quicker rhythm.
“And it was nice for me to get one more vertical race experience in against a competitive group before World Champs,” he said.
Along with Vaille, Staberg is also an accomplished cross-country runner and track-and-field athlete for Summit High School. She said she leaned on more of a running step during Sunday’s national championship vertical race to make the best of the deep powder conditions.
As for the overall race results, Aspen’s John Gaston won for the second day in a row after he captured the Audi Power of Four team event on Saturday alongside fellow Aspenite Max Taam. As such, Gaston won Sunday’s overall title for his second national championship in as many days. The race was for the United States Ski Mountaineering Association’s vertical race national championship, the final of four national titles handed out by the sport’s overriding U.S. body, the Summit County-based USSMA, this winter.
Gaston won with a time of 23 minutes, 55 seconds, for what he says is his 15th national championship. Boulder’s Rory Kelly was second in 26 minutes and Aspen’s Jack Linehan third in 27:43. Taam was fourth in 29:29.
Taking the women’s national championship in vert was Anna Mae Flynn, who finished in 30:24. Flynn is a noted ultra runner based out of Marble who is part of the USSMA national team. Taking second among women was Aspen’s Jessie Young in 33:36. Young won the Power of Four on Saturday alongside Breckenridge’s Nikki LaRochelle. Megan Bentzin was the third woman to finish on Sunday, coming in at 40:02.
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