Steamboat Springs On the ski hill, Steamboat Winter Sports Club racers Cooper Puckett and Jordan Simon appear to be fierce rivals, but it only take a few minutes watching them outside the finish area to realize they're more than that — they're good friends.
On Friday, the two top racers helped the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club sweep the final events of the USSA Rocky Central U14 Alpine Skiing Championships at Howelsen Hill.
The slalom events were the grand finale for the top competitive skiers who came to Steamboat from the Rocky Mountain Division (Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, part of Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska) and Central Division (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinios, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa, North Dakota, part of South Dakota and Missouri).
Puckett headed into the final events looking to place an exclamation point on the week by winning the first slalom run, but the icy course beneath his skis got the better of him just as he cleared the knoll and was headed into the steepest part of the course. His skis slid out from under him, and he fell to the ground. He got back up and finished the race but could only manage 55th after the mistake.
“It was a hard morning," Puckett said, “but as soon as my teammate, Jordan Simon, came through the finish, I could not have been happier. I was completely fired up; he was so amazing ... that was what motivated me in my second run.”
Simon, who had finished second to Puckett in the super-G on Friday, finished with a time of 38.09 seconds to win the race. Buck Hill’s Adam Berghult was second at 38.35, and Ski Club Vail’s Samuel Packer was third at 38.65.
“I was so happy and so excited,” Simon said. “It was unbelievable. I had hoped for a win or a second the whole week … I met my goal, and I’m so pumped.”
Simon's run also seemed to give Puckett new life, and in the afternoon, he returned to his winning ways, leading the field with a time of 33.50. Berghult again settled for second with a time of 34.17, and Afton Alps skier Parker Dean was third with a time of 34.65. Simon placed fourth at 35.08.
Steamboat ski racer Colin Kagan also had a strong day, moving up from the 75th starting position to place 45th (44.44) in the first race and from 75th to 48th (40.86) in the second.
The slalom races rounded out a busy week of racing and training for the 12- and 13-year old skiers, a week that included super-G training Thursday, a super-G race on Friday, two giant slalom races Saturday, a dual slalom race Sunday and Monday’s slalom events.
Puckett may have been the most dominant skier of the week, earning victories in the super-G, both giant slalom races and the final slalom race.
“It was an unbelievable week, and it was so much fun,” Simon said. “I just love all the different events and all the activities after the ski races. It was a great atmosphere for ski racing, and I’m so happy that it was in my home town.
Puckett, whose finishes have qualified him to compete in the U16 championships, was also excited to ski in his home town and get to share the experience with his good friend and training buddy, Simon. After taking the lead in the final race of the week, Puckett hung around the finish area to cheer Simon down the hill in his final run.
“I could not have been happier for him,” Puckett said after winning the race. “I loved racing at home, I loved making new friends and I loved watching my friend win this morning.”
Spotlight on Romanov
Loveland’s Dasha Romanov stole the spotlight in both slalom races on the final day of the U14 championships, but that didn’t stop a couple of Steamboat racers from shining.
Steamboat’s Emilia Cooper put together a solid effort Monday, placing fifth in the first race with a time of 38.25. Teammates Annika Ort was 22nd (41.59), Natalia Tatge was 26th (42.05) and Caroline Gilchrist was 46th (44.96).
“I was just focused on going as fast as I could," Cooper said after the race. "I was happy, but I wanted to do better.”
She may done better in the second race if not for missing the penultimate gate on the course and being disqualified. She was in fourth place after her run. She was disappointed, but acknowledged the missed gate was most likely the result of pushing her limits.
Fortunately for her, teammate Tatge stepped up her game, racing to a seventh-place finish with a time of 41.16.
But the final day of racing truly belonged to Loveland racer Romanov, who won the first slalom race with a time of 36.49. She topped second-place finisher Emma Resnick, of Ski Club Vail, and her teammate, Taylor Hoyt, who placed third.
Romanov also set the pace in the second race with a time of 37.82. She topped Abigail Horning, from Ausblick Ski Race team in Wisconsin, who was second, and Vail’s Hoyt placed third for a second time.
Steamboat’s Natalia Tatge led the Winter Sports Club with a seventh in the second run. Among her teammates, Annika Ort was 26th (44.390), Marissa Drobek was 28th (44.71) and Caroline Gilchrist was 61st (49.13).
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966