by heather foster
Nearly 200 athletes competed in the Western Region FIS Elite Tech Series at Sun Valley Jan. 12-15.
Two giant slalom (GS) and two slalom (SL) races were on tap for both men and women across the four days. Top junior and collegiate ski racers from across the country qualified for this regional event, where they have the opportunity to lower their FIS points through their results, and ultimately work their way to the Nor-Am Series—the next level of ski racing in North America.
“Hosting an event like the Western Region FIS Elite Tech Series is a great opportunity for our SVSEF Alpine FIS Team to compete on home snow among many of the best athletes in the country,” said Will Brandenburg, Chief of Race and SVSEF Alpine Director. “We saw a lot of really strong skiing out here this weekend in somewhat challenging conditions for ski racing, and some solid results for Sun Valley athletes.”
Giant slalom was up first for the men on Thursday and Friday. Mikkel Solbakken, racing for Westminster College, took the top step on the overall podium both days. On Friday, SVSEF FIS Team athlete, Colin Hanna, took 3rd place among U21 men landing in 8th place overall. SVSEF’s Kai Subith finished in 9th place among U18 men, and Nils Galloway 12th among U21 men.
SVSEF women showed up strong for the first slalom race on Thursday with Paige DeHart coming in 2nd among U18 women and 8th overall, while teammate Jessica Blackburn placed 3rd among U21 women and 9th overall.
SVSEF had six athletes in the top 15 among U18 women including Paige DeHart (2nd), Maya Lightner (5th), Natalie Gowe (7th), Meredith Bromley (9th), Lowie Watkins (12th), and Ruby Crist (14th).
In Friday’s slalom, SVSEF’s Natalie Gowe raced to 4th place among U18 women and a top 15 overall in 13th. Three of Gowe’s teammates rounded out the top 15 for U18 women including Sasha McCourtie (11th), Ruby Crist (13th), and Sophia Hallstein (15th).
Nightly snow and unseasonably warm temperatures made for some challenging race conditions throughout the event. “We are beyond grateful for the hardworking course crew, the support of all the volunteers, and the team at Sun Valley Company,” said Brandenburg. “We had our work cut out for us this year. Ski racing definitely favors firm surfaces and cold temps, and the race crew and volunteers put in a tremendous effort to provide the best course conditions possible for the athletes.”
The men and women switched disciplines for the weekend, with the women on the Warm Springs giant slalom course and the men moving over to Hemingway-Greyhawk for slalom.
In Saturday’s first giant slalom race for the women, SVSEF’s Paige DeHart took 1st among U18 women and 10th overall, while teammates Maya Lightner took 5th and Meredith Bromley snuck into the U18’s top 15 in 14th. Jessica Blackburn placed 4th among U21 women and 11th overall.
It was a powerful repeat by Paige DeHart on Sunday, again placing 1st among U18’s and landing in 7th overall on the day. Maya Lightner and Lowie Watkins finished in the top 15 among U18s in 8th and 12th respectively. Hannah Saethereng of Norway, skiing for Westminster College, continued her domination ultimately winning the overall at all four races of the series.
“Having a high-level race series at home is a special opportunity to race a hill we are familiar with,” said Paige DeHart, SVSEF FIS Team athlete. “It is always fun to have our family and friends there to support us. Thanks to SVSEF and Sun Valley Company for putting on a great race series!”
On the men’s side in Saturday’s first slalom race, Mikkel Solbakken found himself on the overall top step for the third time in three races of the weekend. SVSEF’s Kai Subith finished 6th among U18 men with an 11th overall finish, and Nils Galloway landed in 8th among U21 men and 24th overall.
In Sunday’s slalom, three SVSEF athletes landed in the top 15 including Kai Subith (6th), Max Meucci (12th), and Sacha Stern-Pre (13th). Subith had an impressive day as the top U18 finisher in a race that only saw 36 of the 97 athletes on the start list finish both runs.