Norton tops the competition at Junior Regional Championships, Far West skiers dominate at Mammoth Mountain
MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — The USSA U-16 Junior Regional Championships concluded Sunday, March 20, and saw Far West skiers go from worst to first. Against downhillers from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming in Super G, giant slalom and slalom, talented racers had designs on reaching nationals while racing on Mammoth Mountain.
Regionals began with two days of training on a very steep and fast portion of the backside of Mammoth Mountain known as Denny’s Downhill. The course essentially started above Red Lakes Run and wound its way through some of the most challenging terrain, terminating just above Outpost 14.
Even two days of preparation could not fully prepare these young athletes for the run Friday, March 18 — it was more like many downhill courses rather than the Super G it was billed as. With many of these first-year U-16 athletes being exposed to speeds they have never seen before, it was easy to understand their trepidation.
Payton Norton of Diamond Peak Ski Team, the odds-on favorite in the event, bested local favorite Barret Calvin by nearly a second Friday. As noted by the Far West coaching staff, the real joy was seeing Norton and the Far West boys wearing the same color jackets ready to redeem their performance from last season — and they did.
Far West’s boys skiers went one-two in the Super G, and put a dagger in the opposition with five of the top-10 finishes. Though the group’s girls were kept off the podium on day one, they still put an impressive performance with four skiers in the top 10.
Zephyr Cove’s Gunnar Barnwell got off to a rocky start in Super G. The Diamond Peak racer finished 68th out of a field of 84 elite competitors from across the West.
Giant slalom racing on Saturday, March 19, was no picnic either. With the wind picking up and the course just 10 gates shorter, the grueling decent sent the athletes to collapse at the end after they were forced to stand — legs shaking — until they passed post-race inspection.
Because of the length of the course the girls were forced to one run, and the best finish was delivered by Far West’s Alice Robinson — she beat two national team members on the challenging course. On the second day, Far West again put four girls in the top 10.
Far West’s boys split the GS competition’s top 10 spots with their Inner Mountain Division rivals, but Inner Mountain claimed two of the podium spots. The top of the podium belonged to Calvin, who bested his nearest opponent by six-tenths of a second.
Diamond Peak’s Mathew Smallhouse, a first-year U-16 racer, surprised the field by finishing fifth overall and delivering the second-best Far West finish on the course. Barnwell was the sixth-best first-year racer, moving up 20 spots on the second day.
By day three, in was clear there was no stopping Norton in his domination of the Junior Regional Championships. Battling flu the week before, Norton dropped 10 pounds and missed at least one practice — yet started Sunday’s slalom with bib No. 1 and dared anybody from any state to take it from him.
Norton’s 43-second first run was fastest by far, so fast that even running 30th on the second run would keep him from being caught. Squaw Valley’s first-year U-16 Drew Wingard was Far West’s next-best finisher, placing fifth with two amazing runs — but still two seconds off Norton’s pace.
Barnwell continued to climb and improve, and finished 12 spots better in slalom Sunday. He took 36th, and was one of the top 12 skiers in his age group.
Norton is moving onto U-16 Junior Nationals, where he will represent the South Shore, Diamond Peak and Far West on the big stage. Nationals will be held March 30-April 3 in Park City, Utah.
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