Heavenly Foundation alpine skiers race at Mt. Rose; Barnwell wins Hard Charger award | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Heavenly Foundation alpine skiers race at Mt. Rose; Barnwell wins Hard Charger award

Tribune staff report

RENO, Nev. — The final opportunity for the most serious ski racers in the west to score points and get a bump in the standings was held at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe last weekend and billed as the Far West Tech Finals. Far West competitors from all over the region were on hand, and racers ranged from 14 to 21 years old.

The field included racers like Sean Higgins, a current coach for Squaw Valley with less than 30 World Cup points who has competed on the circuit with the likes of Olympians Andrew Weibrecht and Steven Nyman. These racers were competing at the event to help "bring the points" for future young racers.

Among those racers was recently crowned Heavenly Foundation MVP Gunnar Barnwell. Taking home three medals over four days is no easy task for a racer — doing it after racing three weeks in a row with very little training is tough for the most seasoned World Cup racers. Barnwell did this in his first year racing open series races against stronger and more mature young men, a great accomplishment for the whole team.

"With some time in the gym adding some muscle over the summer, he could be a strong competitor in the under-16 and 18 categories as a 14-year-old next season," HSSF U-14 coach Jim Hein said.

The most impressive accolade Barnwell received aside from his two silver medals was the Hard Charger award, given the competitor who has the worst starting position on their first run because of their age and lack of experience at this level — but somehow manages to climb out of the ruts with sheer will and make the flip. Getting the flip for the second race gives them the advantage with an earlier starting position.

"These finishes have significantly helped his starting positions for next season," Heavenly alpine program director Kyle Kracht said.

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Barnwell was able to climb a full 50 spots, surpassing racers in slalom last Saturday — a clear redemption from his first open series slalom event where he fell seven times and finished second to last. Not only did his racing produce the silver medal, but it also earned him the Hard Charger award from USSA Far West.

To prove he was not a one-event wonder, Barnwell also took silver in giant slalom last Friday, missing a gold medal by less than two-tenths of a second. To put that difference into perspective, it is about the time it takes to complete a shift between gear changes on a Ferrari FXX sports car.

"We are really looking forward to seeing Gunnar participate in a variety of camps this year, including a camp he was previously invited to in Bariloche at Catedral in Argentina sometime in July," HSSF director Noel Dufty said.

Other athletes who competed from Heavenly over the weekend included Michael Gardner, who had an impressive top-35 giant slalom finish on Friday by placing 32nd and helping reduce her points. It was emotional last four days of racing for Gardner and her family — after 21 years and four children in the foundation, this was the family's final set of races before Michael heads off to college and the next generation of Gardners start racing.

Mary Weyland also helped lower her points last weekend along with Alec Jobbins, who both competes and coaches for Heavenly. Jobbins had a strong performance Friday, taking a bronze medal before producing a top-10 finish in the slalom.

Sean Dunkelman took 57th in giant slalom and 38th in slalom, but had a spectacular crash the second day of slalom. Matthew Schick placed 66th in giant slalom and 68th in slalom while Luke Allen finished 75th in giant slalom and 42nd in slalom.

With the season nearly completed, Heavenly is looking at other opportunities to help expand the learning for its competitors — including technique video analysis with Sprongo, journal keeping, wax temperature analysis, fundraising budgeting with the use of Excel spreadsheets and request form submittal tools from Google. Not to mention hosting the requirements of maintaining a professional social networking page to protecting HSSF's image in an increasingly public world.

Heavenly is fortunate to have the support of its local mountain and Vail Corporation, who sponsors athletes throughout the season. They both have provided HSSF with a great template to work from while helping young adults build impressive credentials for their future.

For more info about Heavenly Foundation summer ski camps, summer events or 2015-16 team registration, contact Heavenly Foundation at (530) 541-7354. HSSF is online at http://www.facebook.com/heavenlyskiandsnowboardfoundation.