TWST coaches and athletes take a minute to pose for a team photo op after the SG at Purgatory Mountain Resort. From left, Josh Willette, Isaac Olson, Aksel Boukhalfa, Max Oliver, Rowan Heflin, Cullen McLean, Solana Pearl, Joseph Gallegos, Julian LaCome, Greta Klinkmann, Josephine Leeson, Ian Olson and Konik Pearl. Courtesy / Paula Knepper
By PAULA KNEPPER
Taos Winter Sports Team (TWST)
The US Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) Southern Series of the Rocky Mountain division ski racing season opened Jan. 22, at Purgatory Mountain Resort with a speedy day of Super Giant Slalom (SG or super-G) racing followed by two days of intense Giant Slalom (GS) racing.
Nearly 200 youth athletes from across New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona descended upon Purgatory Mountain Resort for three consecutive days of adrenaline-fueled competitive alpine ski racing.
Taos Winter Sports Team (TWST) veteran athletes competed Friday in the SG races. Seasoned athletes age 10 and over competed in a highly competitive and experienced field.
A SG is an alpine speed event that combines the precise turning of a giant slalom with the speed of a downhill race course. A SG race course has less vertical drop with the gates spaced closer together than in an alpine downhill event. This is a race against the clock. The athlete with the fastest time down the course wins.
TWST athletes competing in the SG scored fields included Greta Klinkmann (U16), Josephine Leeson, Solana Pearl (U16), Rowan Heflin (U16), Ian Olson (U18), Isaac Olson (U16), and Aksel Boukhalfa (U16). Overall, in the scored men’s field were Ian Olson earning a 2nd place spot on the podium, followed by Isaac Olson earning a 4th place finish, and Aksel Boukhalfa finishing with a 6th place spot. Overall, the women’s scored field was led by Greta Klinkmann earning an 8th place finish followed by teammates Josephine Leeson, and Rowan Heflin earning recognition for their top ten finishing times.
The unscored field was led by Cullen McLean, 5th grader at Mountain Elementary School in Los Alamos, earned the 2nd place spot on the podium. He was followed by teammates Konik Pearl (U14), Joseph Gallegos, and Max Oliver (U14) all finishing in the top 20 of the unscored field.
TWST athletes demonstrated their spirit, skill and courage on the SG course with timing to the tens of a milliseconds, which differentiate finishing times. This was the first SG race course TWST athletes have hurled themselves down in the 2022 season. TWST athletes set a high bar for performance and spirit.
TWST athletes arrived amped for competition Saturday morning facing two days of giant slalom racing on the horizon. The competition was fierce. Along with the seasoned athletes that competed Friday, younger athletes joined the team for two days of GS racing. The experienced athletes, unwavering and collected under the mounting race day pressure, were met with the unbridled enthusiasm of first-time competitive athletes. This was the debut race for several TWST athletes including Livia Turner (U14), Phoebe Snow Desatoff (U12), Axel Vaskas (U10), Mac Braun (U10), Oliver Mosby (U12), 5th grader at Barranca Elementary School Los Alamos, James Jindra (U10), and Malik Boukhalfa (U12).
GS ski racing is a technical discipline in alpine ski racing. The times from two heats over a single day are totaled to determine the overall leader.
Course sets were difficult, with an early delay set on the steepest section of the course. The racing challenged even experienced athletes with deep ruts and a finish line punctuated by a line of breaking bumps.
By Sunday, the atmosphere had shifted again. The team relaxed in the early morning sun, resting in red Adirondack chairs, well before the mountain opened to the public. The entire team looked like seasoned veterans enjoying a quiet moment alone with their thoughts before another day of carving up the race course.
Coach Julian LaCome, who traveled with the team to Durango, said, “awesome race from everyone– from podium finishes earned by our veteran athletes to having our first experience in the start gate for our new race athletes. I love seeing the team, as a whole, out on the hill cheering each other on as we charge down the course in hopes of victory! Huge shout out to all the parents out there that were making things happen for the team, whether it was bringing snack, lunch, water, jackets, slipping the course, or just out cheering us on. Thanks for making it possible! “
Coach Josh Willette stated, “It was a great race all around. Really proud of the athletes for working hard and really putting in their best effort, and the results reflected that hard work. I was stoked at how the team came together to support and root for each other, and the veterans stepped up to help the new racers adjust to the racing environment. Taos really put our best foot forward and this is just the beginning! Awesome race! “
TWST athletes contesting in the men’s scored field included Ian Olson who earned the top spot on the podium, Isaac Olson earned a 3rd place finish, Axel Boukhalfa earned the 5th place finish, and were followed by Konik Pearl and Max Oliver. In the overall women’s field Josephine Leeson earned a 2nd place finish in a very tight race, followed by Hailey McDowell (U18), student at Los Alamos High School, Solana Pearl, Greta Klinkmann, and Rowan Heflin.
Afterward, Head Race Coach Sean Cassily remarked, “Ski racers have to be determined, they have to be resilient, and they have to possess fortitude. Josie Leeson put all of those attributes on display in Durango. Saturday, Leeson crashed hard in the Icebox section of the course. Luckily, she was fine physically and she was able to process through the mental challenges of moving past a hard crash. Sunday Leeson came back out in full attack mode and nearly won the race, posting the fastest second run and narrowly missing the win by just .16 hundredths of a second. This was a fantastic outing for Leeson as she worked to overcome the challenges and came back out to lead the charge for the TWST women’s team. She showed that it’s not just the skiing the matters, it’s the ability to implement those real-life skills that make the difference on race days. “
In the unscored under age 12 (U12) women’s field Phoebe Snow Desatoff earned an 11th place followed by Livia Turner earning at 9th place in the U14 women’s field. In the unscored U12 men’s field, Joseph Gallegos led the team with a 5th place finish, followed by Cullen McLean in 6th place, Malik Boukhalfa in 11thand Oliver Mosby in 16th place. In the unscored U10 men’s field, Axel Vaskas earned a spot on the podium with a 3rd place finish, Mac Brawn earned an impressive 5th place finish, followed by James Jindra in 10th place.
Purgatory Mountain Resort provided a perfect venue for the Southern Series season opener. TWST athletes represented the Taos community with sportsmanship and excellent skiing. These athletes are excellent ambassadors for our mountain, community and favorite winter sport, skiing. For detailed race results see http://vola.ussalivetiming.com
TWST is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) that was established in 1976 dedicated to providing opportunities for athletes to become great skiers and pursue personal goals. TWST promotes the development of good sportsmanship, healthy competitiveness, sound technical skills, and a reverence for the ethos of the mountains. For more information about TWST see http://www.taoswintersportsteam.com.
Cullen McLean (U12) and Julian LaCome (TWST coach) discuss race tactics in the starting gate. Courtesy / Paula Knepper
Cullen McLean (5th grade Mountain Elementary School) building speed on the top of the race course. Courtesy / Paula Knepperd
Josephine Leeson (U16) keeping warm at the start line. Courtesy / Paula Knepper
Greta Klinkmann skiing aggressively down the SG race course. Courtesy / Paula Knepper
Oliver Mosby (5th grade Barranca Elementary School) smiles for a pre-race photo opportunity. Courtesy / Paula Knepper