All aboard: Tahoe sending 22 to USASA nationals |

All aboard: Tahoe sending 22 to USASA nationals

David Gignilliat

It’s like the Super Bowl. And the World Series. And maybe March Madness. But it’s all wrapped up into one. Because you’re in it.

Dreams will be on the iceberg of reality in just a few days as 22 South Shore youth hopefuls gun for top billing at the United States Amateur Snowboard Association Championships March 28-31 in Telluride, Colo.

“This is what they’ve all been looking forward to all year long,” said Heavenly Ski Foundation snowboard coach Ed McClain. “The talk starts at the beginning of the year and continues all the way through the season: ‘Do you think you’ll make nationals?'”

Opening ceremonies March 27 kick off the week’s competition, which will include four days of Alpine and freestyle snowboard action in 19 age divisions. For organizational purposes, age groups have been separated into four groups to facilitate smooth competition.

The event will showcase youth athletes in the sport’s five disciplines: slopestyle, halfpipe, slalom, giant slalom and boardercross. Competitors have qualified for nationals on the basis of points awarded in the 10-contest South Tahoe Snowboard Series.

“It’s a real good chance to see where they place among kids who are involved in the same thing as them. This is what they’ve been working for all year,” McClain said.

Heavenly will send 15 athletes to the Telluride event, including six who will compete in all five of the event’s disciplines. Roger Carver, a national champion last season, will try to defend his title in the Grommet boys (ages 8-9) division. Will Goldenberg (12-13), Elena Hight (8-9), Sophie Karadanis (14-15) and Jimi Tomer (14-15) will show their versatility in all five events.

Heavenly’s David Bosson (14-15), Michael Chilton (12-13), Michelle Rambo (18-22), Lisa Warden (16-17) and Stacy Young (16-17) will specialize in the two Alpine events: slalom and giant slalom.

Freestyle experts Aaron Hernandez (16-17), Jeff Kaczmar (12-13) and Melissa Thaw (16-17) will try to shake things up in slopestyle and halfpipe events. As will Dustin Singler (16-17), who finished first at last year’s nationals in a densely competitive age division.

Keelan Gardiner (boys 10-11) leads the Sierra contingent and will compete in all five events. Gardiner was tied for first in the season-ending men’s overall points standings with 1,000. Other Sierra boarders include Aei Giovenco (men 14-15), who will compete in slalom and ginat slalom, girls overall points leaders Stacie Anderson (overall, 10-11) and Joanie Anderson (12-13, overall), Stephanie Warren (23-29, overall) and Katrina Clapp (16-17, Alpine). Sierra-at-Tahoe Coach Brady Gunsch rounds out the group and will compete in the men’s Jam (ages 18-22) division.

Heavenly’s 15 qualifiers is a marked improvement over the two boarders they sent to mationals in 1998. The three-way split of the former Northern California/Nevada Series into South Shore, North Shore and Mammoth divisions is part of the reason for the larger numbers. But so have the efforts of McClain and Sierra-at-Tahoe coach Brady Gunsch.

“It’s great to see so many of them qualify. Yeah, I was a little surprised,” McClain said. “That’s half the team that qualified. It’s overwhelming.”

A trip to nationals is more than just a fun week in Colorado. It’s also an opportunity for stars-in-the-making to impress future employers and sponsors.

“A lot of (companies) come to nationals to look for kids to pick up,” McClain said. “Sponsors are always looking for more females and young kids. If you do well here, a lot of people are going to see and hear about it.”

First-timers like Alpine specialist Michelle Rambo look forward to the event for a number of reasons: the lure of potential sponsors, prospects for a strong finish and an old-fashioned good time. Rambo, 18, won seven medals in USASA competition this season, including six silvers and one bronze.

“I’m pretty excited about the whole thing,” said Rambo, a freshman at De Anza College in San Jose. “I’m not that nervous at all. Our competition here prepares us well. I’m just happpy I get to go to Colorado and try something new.”

After a successful World Cup freestyle return to the area and the mileage of several ski and snowboard events at Sierra and Heavenly in the rear view mirror, could a USASA Nationals on the South Shore be too far behind?

“I have a feeling it’s coming to Tahoe. I know we’re already starting to build toward nationals,” McClain said. “It just makes sense. We have all the (facilities) to host such an event. If we had it at some place like Lake Tahoe, it would just be ideal.”

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