Squaw Valley USA in the Spotlight | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Squaw Valley USA in the Spotlight

Steve Yingling / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune

SQUAW VALLEY ” Who else but a veteran of the U.S. Ski Team to deliver a podium finish in front of hometown fans and friends?

Several local freestyle skiers made serious bids to deliver a national championship Friday at Squaw Valley USA, but only Shannon Bahrke of Tahoe City landed on the podium at the U.S. Freestyle Championships.

Bahrke finished third, .30 of a point behind Michelle Roark and Hannah Kearney in the women’s single moguls ” the first of three discipline championships that will be decided in a three-day period.

“It is the best feeling in the world. I wish I could have won but third will be OK,” Bahrke said. “So many people have come out and supported me for my whole life. To be on the podium at home really means a lot.”

The last time the national championships were close to home ” 2004 at Heavenly Mountain Resort ” Bahrke was unable to compete because of a broken jaw.

Bahrke was in second place until Kearney, the final competitor and the morning qualifying leader, raced down Red Dog run with one of the few runs under 30 seconds.

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“I was watching all of the girls, and I was like, ‘I just want to hang in there, hang in there.’ It was really cool,” Bahrke said.

The tie between Roark and Kearney was broken by comparing turn scores. Roark was slightly better than the World Cup mogul series champion, enabling her to win her first national title.

The accomplishment brought tears to Roark’s eyes in the finish area.

“I’ve been World Cup champion, world champion, all these things, but never ever national champion,” said Roark, who is from Denver. “It’s so hard to get motivated at the end of the season. The World Cup season is so long for us, and I put so much energy into every World Cup competition that I just feel like I’m drained every time I get to nationals.”

Roark said the condition of the Red Dog course contributed to her victory.

“The bumps (at nationals) are usually a lot different than what we’re used to ” a little bit more sideways ” which makes for a bigger challenge for us to adjust to that. Today, this was real mogul skiing, and I love that.”

Former Heavenly Ski Foundation competitors Sho Kashima and Jay Panther contended for a national title in the men’s moguls event. Kashima finished second to former NFL player Jeremy Bloom in qualifying, but didn’t have the necessary speed for a top-three result in the finals.

“I feel like I was a little slow and conservative,” said Kashima, who finished fifth. “In a field like this, you have to ski your best. With the U.S. Ski Team guys here and the best in the country, you really can’t be conservative.”

Panther, needing to stay on his feet to avoid aggravating a separated shoulder, improved five spots in the finals to finish ninth. The 25-year-old garnered one of the last three qualifying spots into the finals and took advantage of it.

But it was the guy who qualified behind Panther that stole the show in the finals. Bryon Wilson, a member of the “C” team, qualified 15th but came from the back of the pack for the unlikely victory.

“From that position, you have nothing to lose. I had to give it all I had, and that’s why I pulled out the double full,” said Wilson, a 20-year-old from Butte, Mont. “I know I could ski it fast. I kind of skied in conservative in the first run, but I came out and I laid it all out on the second run.”

Wilson sealed his winning run by executing a cork 720 on the bottom air.

“My hat is off to him for jumping up from 15th,” Kashima said. “When you go early, you know you have to throw down a really fast, clean run and pull out all of the stops. If you stick that run, you’re looking pretty good, and that’s what he did.”

Bloom miscalculated his landing on the bottom jump and was barely able to stay upright. He finished 12th. Several other finalists struggled with the bottom jump, trying to make a big final impression on the judges.

Reno’s Shelly Robertson was bumped from the podium on Kearney’s final run. She finished fourth with a score of 25.40. Laurel Shanley of Truckee placed eighth at 24.10. Far West Division champion Hannah Curtzwiler of South Lake Tahoe was 27th. Curtzwiler’s brother, Marshall, finished 33rd in the 53-skier men’s field.

Kyle Jordan led Squaw Valley’s large contingent of participants, placing 21st (21.75).

“I’ve been competing here since I was 10 years old, so it’s my bread-and-butter,” said the 19-year-old Jordan. “My run was a little slower than I wanted it to be, but it was clean with good airs.”

Teammate Nathan Park placed 25th and Jake Hickman was 30th.

If Hickman had won, the 14-year-old would topped Travis Cabral’s 10-year-old record of winning the national championship at age 15.

“It’s a chance to show what you have, and it’s the ultimate road to the Olympics,” said Hickman of the experience of competing at nationals.