After a season of traveling across the state, two Heavenly boys landed in the Far West Championships.
The championships were the culmination of an amazing ski season for the U12 boys from Heavenly Ski and Education Foundation this past Saturday, March 30, at Squaw Valley.
The event began on Thursday with a super G slalom down Olympic Lady, which is the same course the Nationals were held on one week earlier. The course began 50 meters below the Nationals’ start, but racers still had to endure Julia’s Gold, Strawberry Fields and the dreaded Easy Street. Those benign names make the course sound like a piece of cake, however, just like the week before the best 10 to 12- year-old skiers in the West were challenged by the toughest mountain in the West.
Snow was falling off and on, but the plan was to get in one training and one race run. The weather, however, turned nasty. The race crew hurriedly put down salt, but was rapidly losing the firmness necessary for a speed event.
A decision was made. It would all come down to a single run.
Heavenly’s boys started near the bottom of more than 300 racers, all running the same course.
Gunnar Barnwell was up first. He popped off the start aggressive and straight. All the coaches who have watched Gunnar this year commented on his improvement, so it was a heart breaker when his ski came off on the first steep section.
“On video you could see he was really skiing perfectly, but that is racing. We push it until failure,” coach Billy Barnwell said.
Tyler Madero was up next. His run fueled a rivalry between Mammoth and Heavenly between the two over all point leaders — Heavenly’s Madero and Mammoth’s Charlie Regelbrugge.
“After seeing how straight Gunnar had gone and how round Charlie was on the top, I knew Tyler had an excellent chance to dominate the race,” Barnwell said.
With panels popping left and right, Madero destroyed the top section. The course report from Easy Street was he was over clean and speeding though Julia’s Gold fast enough to claim gold by more than 2 seconds.
There was another super G on Friday, and Gunnar’s chance for redemption. But Easy Street showed its teeth again. The pudding-like slop forced Gunnar to hike, destroying any chance of a medal. His second run (55.39) proved he could have landed in top 15.
Madero chose to take his first run on Gunnar’s 170cm skis, and it didn’t pay off. He battled the skis and course and shaved his lead to five-tenths of a second.
Madero closed the door in his second run, however, posting a 50.05 compared to Regelbrugge’s 50.38. Despite taking second, Regelbrugge was still crowned the overall Far West Northern Series Champion. Madero claimed runner up.
“I chose to skip the Alpine Meadows Parallel to ski in the China Peak Super Giant Slalom, which more than likely caused Tyler the overall series championship title,” Barnwell said. “I wanted the kids to learn how to go fast and be safe, and I wanted them to get as much experience as possible.”
Saturday’s final event was slalom, and Gunnar was running eighth on the first run down Exhibition, just below Easy Street. Turns out there was nothing easy about eliminating Easy Street. Without the steep start, coaches were falling all over the place trying to get their racers in the start. The Squaw Valley coach made a nice penguin slide of about 10 meters.
Gunnar had a crushing first run time. He mastered the entire course except the last two gates where he ended up on his head almost sliding through the finish. Gunnar jumped up, ran uphill and finished the race with signature whirly birds much to the crowd’s enjoyment.
“It was a heart breaking finish for the whole team as we know this is truly his best event, but with a second run time of 44.23 putting him in eighth place, it was just nowhere near erasing the 10-second mistake of the first run,” Barnwell said.
Madero’s first run was a nail-biting succession of rodeo-like skills and muscling through each turn.
“He looked nowhere near as smooth as Gunnar, so I figured at best he would be in third,” Barnwell said.
But when all the times were posted, Madero was was leading second-place skier Cameron Smith by almost a full second.
Smith overtook the lead with a speedy second run, but after watching Madero finish the last turn on the outside edge of his inside ski, he asked Madero if he is even human.
Madero’s overall time (117.38) was good enough for gold, and with it he won all three events becoming the undisputed overall Far West Championship champion.
“It has been my pleasure to coach both of these young men this season as both of them have showed me the commitment, work ethic, and poise it takes to be real champions,” Barnwell said.