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Tahoe’s big three compete at nationals

Steve Yingling

South Lake Tahoe offers a triple threat at the Chevy Truck U.S. Alpine Championships, which begin today at Sugarloaf, Maine.

Wisi Betschart, Alicia Howard and Jonna Mendes, members of the U.S. Ski C Team, are expected to compete in all four disciplines over the next six days. The longtime members of Heavenly Ski Foundation have national experience under their belts and should be in contention for top 10 performances.

A warm-up downhill race is scheduled for the men and women this morning. The actual downhill national championship unfolds Thursday.



The 20-year-old Betschart enters nationals after an up-and-down season. He started the campaign out with an encouraging second in a Nor-Am race at Lake Louise, Canada, and followed that up with a third in a FIS downhill race in Montana. But since then, Betschart has tried to mentally overcome last year’s anterior cruciate damage to his right knee.

“Sometimes I’m kind of cautious and sometimes I don’t stand on my (right) leg as hard as I stand on the other leg. I’m not favoring it, but I’m not fully confident, either,” Betschart said. “It’s all in the head. I want to go fast, but when I’m about to race I don’t want to crash and blow out my knee again and go through the whole six-month ordeal.”



Following his fast start, Betschart lost some confidence in Europe when pain returned to his right knee.

“I was expecting too much. I went over there thinking I was going to ski really fast and I was over my knee and I got into some gnarly downhills,” he said.

To strengthen his knee Betschart recently took a month off, rejuvenating his interest in competing.

“My knee feels awesome now and I’ve been skiing really well,” Betschart said. “I haven’t set any goals too high for this week. I just want to be happy with whatever I get, and I just want to get through the year without injury and take all summer long to figure out what I need to do to go fast again.”

Still, Betschart is a legitimate threat to win at nationals.

“He’s had a couple of good months skiing now and he’s rested, that’s the big difference,” said Noel Dufty, Betschart’s skiing coach in Tahoe. “He’s always a threat. I think he’s going to do pretty well in GS.”

Meanwhile, the 17-year-old Mendes is on an emotional high going into nationals.

Mendes finished 31st in a World Cup super-G earlier this month at Mammoth Mountain and knows she can be competitive against North Americans. She stepped up on the podium last year as a 16-year-old, earning silver in the combined and bronze in the giant slalom. In addition, Mendes was seventh in the super-G and 10th in the downhill.

“I’m hoping to finish top three in the combined. I’m just hoping I ski like I know I can. If I do, I should be right in there,” Mendes said.

Healthy after several concussions last year and reconstructive knee surgery the year before, the 18-year-old Howard can finally focus on skiing.

Howard’s best finish in two nationals is 29th in the slalom.

After downhills today and Thursday, the schedule is men’s and women’s super-G on Friday, men’s giant slalom on Saturday, women’s giant slalom on Sunday and men’s and women’s slalom on Monday.


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