Christianson wins Giant Slalom at U.S. Nationals
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Kieffer Christianson took first in the Men’s Giant Slalom at the U.S. Nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho on March 31. Four days earlier, he placed second in the Men’s Alpine Combined. Christianson has been racing for the U.S. Ski Team for five years, and he has been with the team for six. His early skiing career took place in Girdwood, where he learned to ski and kept developing.
The second place Giant Slalom skier finished +0.83 seconds behind Christianson, who had the best finish of his career and his first win at U.S. Nationals. He described the course’s design as unusually difficult and suggested it may have thrown his competitors off a little bit.
“It was a really challenging hill,” Christianson said,“and it was a really challenging set. We had already raced on it two times that weekend racing Super-G. We knew what we were getting into in terms of the hill being steep. The set, which is how the gates were set, was super technical, super tight, and super wacky, for lack of a better word. It was a crazy set.”
He said the course’s difficulties made the race interesting and caused him to adjust his plan soon after he started. He noted the difference his skis made during his performance. A few years back, the turning radius specifications on skis was changed to make maneuvering more technically difficult. Not everybody liked the change at first, but Christianson appreciates it now that he has adjusted.
“It’s the most difficult. You have to ski technically really well for the skis to work. If you do get them to work, the energy from them is really powerful. Being able to harness the power out of the ski is what makes it super fun. It’s an artistic event.”
Christianson’s second place finish in Men’s Alpine Combined was by +1.46, and he was happy to be up on the podium because he has had a rough season. Between the Combined and Giant Slalom races, he had a couple of DNFs that put him out of competition. After those setbacks, winning a race was a welcome reward for his efforts.
The 23-year old Christianson credits his skiing roots to Girdwood, where he spent much of his early years competing and improving his technique.
“I started skiing when I was two,” said Christianson. “I did Ski League and learned to ski. I was in the Mighty Mites racing program and then the Juniors racing program. I went to the Ski Academy in Vermont for a little bit, and then I made the U.S. Ski Team. The bulk of my racing and development was at Alyeska Ski Club.”
He said growing up in Girdwood influenced him positively by opening up his sense of curiosity and being willing to try new things like a variety of foods when travelling, especially internationally.
“Growing up in Girdwood, you get used to it,” Christianson said. “You kind of take it as the norm. When you start traveling to Park City and Vail and places like that for racing, you realize that those places are different. The racing is different. The people are different. They’re more homogenized and plain. Girdwood’s a little funky.”
Christianson trains in Park City, Utah during summers for a few weeks, using a state of the art gym for workouts. He goes summer skiing in New Zealand, Chile and Europe to stay sharp. When I spoke with him, he was driving to Colorado for his last six races of the season in Aspen and Vail. While he enjoys the travel and the competitions throughout the year, they prevent him from returning home to Girdwood as often as he would like to visit friends and family.
“Once the season starts,” he said,“we’re basically on the road from November to March. I don’t get home as much as I would like to. This year, I was home for about 10 days, which was awesome.”
Though his season is about to conclude and summer training to begin, he is looking forward to being on next year’s team and competing. He also hopes his Giant Slalom victory influences young Girdwood skiers to get involved in competitive races and improve their skills, especially since the opportunity is easily available.
“I’m super proud to represent Girdwood, and I want the kids there to know that so that they can aspire to be ski racers as well. It’s fun to have some more racers from Girdwood skiing around.”