Saturday morning at sunrise I watched from the sidelines of a speed training session at Mount Spokane. Teenagers in speed suits attacked the course. The wind resistance from their velocity made a whooshing sound as they streaked by.
The Spokane Ski Racing Association was preparing for the J3 Junior Olympic super G qualifier at Mt. Hood this weekend. The chance to work on raw speed was rare. SSRA needs access to a big chunk of vertical and uninhabited slopes. The weather has to cooperate and the ski area has to support the effort. The 7 a.m. load was a special occasion.
“Mount Spokane is great to let us do this,” SSRA coach Gerry Fitzgerald said. “They support us with their grooming, opening a chair and getting the staff and the ski patrol up here. None of these people would have to be here yet if we didn’t need them.”
Mark Burandt, SSRA’s head junior coach, set the super G course. He wanted to show his J3 racers, boys and girls age 13-15, what to expect from Mt. Hood.
“Mt. Hood is typically technical,” Burandt said. “I set today’s course on comparable terrain. It runs from flats to steeps to blind turns where you can’t see what’s coming because of the way the terrain drops off. At Mt. Hood there’s not going to be a lot of gliding. They’ll have to be tactically ready to set up technical high speed turns.”
The start was at the top of Northwest Passage. Racers tucked across a broad swath of flat terrain, trying to squeeze speed from their turns to gain momentum.
The course tipped over into a steep pitch at Rockslide. Racers had to pay attention as they accelerated. In this section, coaches were looking for long, smooth arcs with gradual pressure from the tip to the tail of the ski. They stressed resisting the impulse to tuck for more speed. That tactic would only work against them in the technical sections on Mt. Hood.
“The tuck position can’t withstand the forces on the outside ski to hold the edge through the turn,” Burandt said. “They’re faster keeping their chest down low, driving their arms down the hill and keeping their weight on that outside ski.”
Most racers were skiing about 60 mph at the exit from Rockslide. A final sweeping turn propelled them through a series of rolls into another flat section and then into the bowl of Northwest Passage. At the finish they shut down, hit the cat track over to chair one and ran the course again.
The kids made few mistakes and the session went smoothly. Every athlete skied four runs before the public arrived. The fastest skiers clocked at the finish were Joseph Estrella, 16, from Ferris High School at 57 mph, and Elyse Burandt, 13, from Sacajawea Middle School at 54 mph. I asked Burandt if he liked what he saw.
“On the fourth run I did,” he said. “Each run they got more confidence, looked ahead better and got a feel for how to set their edges in the type of snow we had this morning. The speed, the feel, the aerodynamics – it all comes together gradually.”
Mount Spokane’s J3 racers will have to carry their momentum from training into the super G at Mt. Hood. There will be no opportunity for a training run. After course inspection, the game is on.
“I think our kids will do well at Mt. Hood,” Burandt said. “Last year at the Buddy Werner championships we did quite well on that hill. I’m confident they’ll be prepared.”