NORTHSTAR, Calif. - The Heavenly Foundation Alpine Race Team competed in the J4/5 Championships April 5-8, and several Heavenly Mountain Resort athletes scored top-15 finishes, along with podium finishes almost every day. Northstar California Resort, Heavenly's sister resort, hosted the four-day event, which saw nearly 100 athletes compete in each age class. Athletes from the North, South, and Central series make up the Far West Division and meet only at the championship races.
"It's pretty amazing to see our small team go up against the entire Far West Division and be able to hang with the best and, in a few races, be the best," Heavenly Foundation Coach John Allen said, referencing that the Foundation had only 16 total athletes competing.
J4 athletes (11 and 12 year olds) raced Super G on the backside of Northstar on Challenger Run while the J5 athletes (10 and younger) raced giant slalom on Pioneer Run. Payton Norton lead the Heavenly team with fourth place in the SG, followed by Corey Huber in 36th, Dylan Gooding 41st, and Nick Fischer 46th. Madison Idso had a top-15 finish with a 12th for the girls with Cypress Sell placing 50th. J5 boy Gunnar Barnwell had a solid 23rd place finish in the GS, but it was his slalom skiing the following day that got him noticed.
On April 6, Barnwell got onto the podium with a great third-place finish in the J5 boys slalom, with teammate MJ Allen placing 52nd. Concurrently, the J4 athletes raced GS on Pioneer.
"We had some great race runs from our team today," said Foundation Coach Mark Norton. "We would have had more in the top 15, but we had costly mistakes that prevented them from holding onto those top finishes."
Gooding, however, held on to both of his runs to secure a respectable fifth-place finish, followed by teammates Norton in 16th, Trent Funke 35th, Corey Huber 36th, Sean Dunkelman 40th, and Fischer 41st. J4 Girls Idso and Sell placed 33rd and 53rd respectively.
But Heavenly's biggest day wouldn't come until day three slalom. Not only did Heavenly athletes capture the slalom title, nearly the entire team moved up an average of 15 finish places each.
"We had five boys with top 15 runs ... although there were some mistakes and one blew out of the course ... just to see them skiing that aggressively, that good, was worth it," said Foundation coach Raquel Norton.
Heavenly took two spots atop the boys podium, with Payton Norton finishing first with a combined time of 1:40.52 seconds. Squaw's Winston Pretti was seconnd (1:42.02) and Heavenly's Dylan Gooding finised third (1:43.03). Corey Huber still managed a 17th-place result after a near front flip, followed by solid performances by Nick Fischer 37th, Connor Huber 38th, Trent Funke 51st, Luke Allen 59th and Cypress Sell 46th (for the Girls class).
Day four is scheduled as the fun race, but may also be used as a backup weather day in the event that conditions or weather cause a race postponement. Since weather was not an issue, race organizers held a Kombi race, which involved athletes racing on slalom skis through a course that consisted of hero gates (short, stubby slalom gates), mushroom gates, and then into GS paneled gates. Two courses were set, side by side (red vs. blue), in a dual format in which athletes were required to race a run in each course.
As the race got under way, some athletes appeared in costume (Gumby, swimmer, guile suit, etc). Some went without ski poles. Unbeknownst to their coaches, athletes secretly planned course strategies with their partner, whom they were racing. Out of the start came a pair of athletes racing each other, when suddenly the athletes veered into the others' course. At first, it looked like a mistake, but as they continued down course spectators could hear, "Switch!" and the two racers would switch from racing one course and go back into their own course.
"We had a good laugh, even though they were disqualified," said Coach Mark Norton. "But we don't want to take away from those athletes who used this day as a real race."
For the Heavenly girls, Madison Idso placed eighth, Cypress Sell 13th and Katie Fischer was 17th. The boys saw Connor Huber place 19th, Sam Ward 21st, Nick Fischer 25th, Trent Funke 26th, and Nick Buchholz 33rd.
The Far West racing continues with rescheduled Super G races to be held at the end of the month in Mammoth.