The U.S. Ski Team Selection event, held every December, is competitors’ best shot at earning a spot on the U.S. Ski Team. This December, members of Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club’s Champion Mogul Team gave the 2010 Selections event their best shot – with one outright win and three top five finishes – but in the end those coveted U.S. Ski Team spots evaded TSSC’s mogul skiers.
Prospects for winning a US Ski Team spot looked brightest for TSSC-trained Zak Watkins, who started the single moguls event (held Dec. 19 at Steamboat Springs) wearing the #1 bib; athletes were issued bibs based on FIS points, or world ranking. Watkins (who missed earning a spot at last year’s event by a mere 3/100th of a point) “was certainly considered a favorite,” says TSSC Freestyle Team Director Caleb Martin.
Yet tricky conditions – flat light, driving snow, and poor visibility – may have gotten the better of Watkins. After executing a near-perfect Back Full (back layout with full twist,) Watkins seemed to be in good balance, but soon after caught an edge and crashed in his semi-final run. Yet Telluride’s moments of glory didn’t fade with Watkins’ fall.
Teammate Wade Parkinson qualified first in the preliminary run, following a smoking run highlighted by a D-spin then a backflip iron cross for aerial tricks. Meanwhile TSSC newcomer Troy Tulley qualified in eighth and proceeded to put a fantastic finals run together highlighted by the fastest run of the day. Parkinson ended the day in eighth; Tulley finished fifth.
And on the ladies’ side, TSSC alumni Lane Stoltzner came out of the Selections starting gate with determination, skiing fast on the first day of competition to land in second place. Overall, the Telluride contingent looked mighty to start the event.
“The team’s performance for the beginning of year is really exciting, especially since they haven’t had a lot of training up to this point. It was outstanding stuff,” Martin says, although he admits Watkins’ fall on Day One was tough to watch.
“Zak’s crash the first day was a heartbreaker. He has worked extremely hard all year preparing for this event only to fall short of his goal to make the U.S. Team,” Martin noted. However, Watkins wasn’t finished fighting, and neither were his teammates.
Day two found Watkins qualifying first in the preliminary, returning in the finals to execute what his teammates call the “Zak flip”: A backflip iron-cross, which scored him 2.4 points – 2.5 being the highest score possible. He went on to win third, while Parkinson landed in sixth. Stoltzner had been ranked fourth after the preliminaries, but bobbled on the last two turns in the finals and wound up in 14th. “Had she nailed the last two turns, she would have surely been on the team,” Martin said.
Watkins again found his stride on the third day of competition, in the dual moguls event. After qualifying fourth, he proceeded to rip through his competition emerging as the clear victor after four heats.
“It was great to see him bounce back after the disappointment of the first day of competition, and nail each of his remaining runs. It really shows everyone that he’s a contender,” Martin said of Watkins’ Dual Moguls win on December 22.
TSSC’s Keaton McCargo skied solidly all week as well, earning herself a spot on the NorAm Tour; Tulley earned a spot on the NorAm Team, as well. (Parkinson and Watkins, already named to the U.S. Ski Team Development Group based on last season’s outstanding results, earned automatic NorAm spots.)
The team has some time off before the first NorAm event, which will take place in Calgary at the end of January (although “time off” is a misnomer, especially for Tulley and Parkinson, who have both been taking full course loads at Salt Lake City’s Westminister College and Boulder’s CU, respectively, in addition to their competitive agendas). The NorAm tour will provide the next opportunity for these skiers to realize their U.S. Ski Team aspirations, with the competitor with the top points accumulation at the end of the tour winning a team spot.
Telluride’s Champion Mogul Team will travel back to Steamboat this weekend to participate in a Rocky Mountain regional mogul event, then will head to Aspen. The Devo team will compete in Steamboat in two weeks, while the Freeride team travels to Crested Butte.
Last weekend, the team’s junior skiers competed in the Southwest Mogul Tour’s season opener, on Sunday in Telluride.
“It was a great kickoff to the season,” Martin said of the event, which showcased a large field of young local skiers as well as skiers from Durango’s freestyle team. Each age division saw close battles between the top finishers, with the top three spots often separated by less than half a point. “Without a lot of on-snow training, they were just getting their ski legs under them. It was a great starting point, getting a competition under their belt, and great motivation as they look forward to a busy competition schedule ahead.”