Alyeska Ski Club Back from Nationals
By Peter Erickson
Glacier City Gazette Intern
“Being able to have a ski club where these kids can achieve their goals is really important to this community. We strive to provide the infrastructure and the organization and the staff to help them realize their dreams and then if they do go off to race in college they have a good foundation and with that we’ve hopefully done our job”
– Lara Hildreth, Alyeska Ski Club Executive Director
The Alyeska Ski Club (ASC) has been around for nearly 50 years serving residents and fostering a community of skiers that have gone on to “achieve various levels of success on slopes around the world,” according to their website.
Coaches like Jennifer Danza and organizers and executives like Lara Hildreth make this a reality for their racers, passing on techniques, helping them to realize their goals and organizing races both at home and away. It’s all very time consuming, but even more rewarding.
When their racers get compete in national events, it’s a pretty big deal. Last week Mary Grace Stahla and Piper Sage, both high school sophomores, had that opportunity.
After qualifying at regionals held here at Alyeska, the two went on to represent Girdwood and compete at the U16 National Championships in Washington.
Both girls have the skiing background you would expect. They were on skis from an incredibly young age and fostered into the Mighty Mite program, and they have skied with and against each other nearly their entire lives.
Naturally, when the western region national qualifiers where held here at their home mountain, they were as ready as they could be.
Just last month, 170 boys and girls from around the United States western region flocked to Alyeska to participate in these qualifiers, all hoping to place and move onto the national championships.
ASC faced a mountain of challenges hosting the event, but thanks to great weather and snow conditions, amazing organization, and the help of volunteers and members, it all came together and the races went off without a hitch. The competition was tough, but with the help of phenomenal coaches, tons of support, and an abundance of skill both Piper and Mary Grace were able to qualify for Nationals.
Moving onto the national stage was a jarring change of pace. The race series was held in Mission Ridge, Wash., and the snow there was drastically different from what the girls had been skiing on all winter.
“They did well. The girls attacked the courses really well despite the difficult conditions,” said coach Danza.
It shows in their results. Mary Grace was able to place in the top ten for the Super G race, and Piper’s team was able to land third place in the panel dual slalom team competition.
Dana Stahla (Mother of Mary Grace) observed progress in her daughter’s technique, saying, “It’s really fun to see your kids achieve their goals and be successful. I’ve enjoyed seeing her coaches over the years bring out a different dynamic to her racing and sometimes she struggled through periods of learning but you get to watch as they overcome that obstacle… it’s really amazing”
Even though the field was smaller (only 60 boys and 60 girls competed), the competition was fierce and heated, driving the racers to push themselves beyond their limits, sometimes to great effect and costing them at others.
“In GS, both skied really well. They charged ahead and really pushed but you can be skiing really well one second, and the next you blow out and you’re down and that happened sure, but we’re really proud of them for trying and pushing as hard as they did” said coach Danza.
“Nationals was a difficult race series for me. I made a couple of technical mistakes in the super G that really showed in the results, and I didn’t finish in the slalom or GS but I ended on a high note by taking 3rd in the team event called panel dual slalom” said Sage.
Through all the struggle and hardship, there was also passion and love for the sport that drove the racers and coaches forward, motivating them to pick up and adapt. When asked if they would go again given the chance, both racers and coaches answered with an emphatic ‘yes!’
“It was great to be able to go see what the competition was like out of state, to see what you’re up against… We’re one of the only places that represents Alaska in the out of state events besides Juneau and a few other places, so it’s really cool to see the difference.” said Stahla.
“It’s definitely different compared to what you hear about outside of Alaska but I like it” added Sage.
“It was a very good experience for both the girls and myself being in that American circuit.” said coach Danza
Now they are back and the ski season has begun its long wind down, making way for spring and summer. Even as the snow melts, the girls and boys and coaches of the ASC will be on the mountain, in the race training center and various gyms training, planning and dreaming about the next great race series that awaits.