Alpine ambition

Prime conditions a lift to skiing, boarding action

Posted: Wednesday, March 08, 2006

 

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  "(It) happens," Howell said as she walked off the course after choosing not to complete her run. Photos by M. Scott Moon

Team Alaska's Ike Bombeck and Team Alberta's Pierce Mimura dual in a jump Tuesday during the boys juvenile boardercross competition at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Epic.

That’s how many of the skiers and snowboarders from across the northland participating in Arctic Winter Games Alpine events at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood on Tuesday characterized their day on the hill.

With some of the best snow of the year falling in heaps around them, both winners and also-rans in the boardercross and slalom events agreed that the day’s conditions helped add to what’s shaping up to be a memorable week.

“The mountain is great right now with the snow and everything, and the course seems to be pretty fun,” said Andrew Matthews of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, following his first boardercross run.

 

Team Alberta North's Josh Watson uses a hand dryer on wet clothing as Team Yamal coach Dimitry Vik Gramotin adjusts his bib overalls in a restroom at Alyeska after Tuesday's Alpine events. "Im soaked," Watson said. Tuesdays events occurred in a blizzard that had visibility down to a few yards at various times of the day.

Photos by M. Scott Moon

Matthews said skiing at Alyeska was a rare treat considering the terrain (or lack thereof) he grew up on at home.

“This blows the hills at home out of the water,” he said. “Like, the biggest hill we have is a hole in the ground.”

In his blaze orange bodysuit, Matthews was one of the most recognizable boarders on the hill.

“I picked this baby up at Value Village,” he said of his unique costume. “It was like, $13.99 or something. ... Anybody can see me from pretty much anywhere.”

 

Team Alberta's Rebecca Howell wipes out in the first turn Tuesday as Yukon's Kayla Wilks and Alaskas Rebecca Dailey continue their preliminary run in the boardercross at Alyeska Resort.

Photos by M. Scott Moon

Those keeping an eye on Matthews were able to see his streaking orange figure pull off one of the more stirring finishes of the day.

During a preliminary heat, Matthews was trailing Cody Burchell of Fort McMurray, Alberta, as the duo approached the finish line. But Matthews was carrying more speed, and let Burchell know about it as they neared the race’s end.

 

"(It) happens," Howell said as she walked off the course after choosing not to complete her run.

Photos by M. Scott Moon

“I’m coming for you!” he yelled, just before overtaking his friend and rival.

Burchell, thinking he’d lost out on a chance to advance to the next round, was visibly (and audibly) shaken, throwing his hands in the air and letting out a couple loud screams of frustration. His pain didn’t last long, however, as Matthews rode over to remind him that the top two in each of the four-person heats would advance to the semifinal round.

On the ski lift up after the heat, Matthews said he had to calm Burchell down a bit after the close race.

“I was kinda like, ‘it’s all right,’” he said.

Going into the semis, Burchell said the tight finish showed just how close the top boarders were to one another in skill level during Tuesday’s races.

“You can see it’s pretty tight,” he said.

 

Team Alberta celebrates Cody Burchell's (30) gold ulu win in the junior boys boardercross event at the conclusion of Tuesday's events.

Photos by M. Scott Moon

Burchell’s assessment of the field would prove to be right, as Matthews went on to eventually claim a bronze ulu in the junior men’s boardercross event. The two squared off again the gold ulu match where Burchell claimed boardercoss junior male top title.

Overshadowing the friendly competition of the skiers and boarders Tuesday was the feeling that everyone was just lucky to be enjoying the heavy powder that blanketed the mountain.

“They’re having a blast,” Greenland coach Aqqulu said of his squad. “This is like heaven to us.”

Greenland’s team isn’t used to competing or even training on big mountain resorts like Alyeska, a fact that wasn’t lost on boarder Ulloriaq Kreutzmann.

When asked what his favorite part of the day was, Kreutzmann replied simply, “The lifts.”

While he might have enjoyed riding a chairlift up the mountain, Kreutzmann proved he’s no slouch at getting back down, bringing home a silver ulu in the juvenile men’s boardercross.

Despite their lack of facilities back home, the Greenland team impressed many on the mountain with their athleticism.

“The Greenlanders have really impressed me, and they’re all big boys, too,” Cody Burchell said, pointing out that bigger riders had an advantage in the heavy snow.

Not everyone on the mountain Tuesday was there to race. In fact, one participant in the Games was getting his first taste of downhill skiing.

“This is my first day at all on downhill skis,” said Jette Asmusson, a translator from Denmark who was helping Team Greenland.

After riding a lift to the top of the mountain, Asmusson stood eying the steep “Mighty Mite” run with some apprehension.

“This hill, I think, is kinda, like, whoa,” he said. “I actually think this is a black (diamond) hill. I’m not quite sure.”

Asmusson eventually made it down the run in one piece, and later said he was pleased with how his first day on downhill boards went.

“This gets you going,” he said with a smile.

In addition to volunteers like Asmusson, fans also were on hand Tuesday to watch the fun. Cindy Bombeck of Eagle River said her sons, Ike and Greg, were thrilled to be able to take part in the international competition.

“There’s some tough competition out there,” she said. “It really excites them to open that window of competition and see beyond just what they have in Alaska.”

Another proud mom was Louise Matthews, who hugged her son in the day lodge after learning of Andrew’s bronze ulu performance.

“I’m just so happy we were able to put a team together, and when you medal it’s even better,” she said.

Asked about her son’s unique outfit, however, Matthews was a little more cautious with her praise.

“Typical snowboarder I guess,” she said with a laugh.

Besides taking in the Alpine events, Matthews said she and her family have been enjoying some of the Kenai Peninsula’s hospitality.

“My husband went down to Homer and bought a big box of salmon, halibut and king crab to bring back,” she said.

Matthews said her family (her daughter also competed in the boardercross) has enjoyed its stay thus far in Alaska.

“We’re thinking about coming back in the summertime,” she said.

Matthews said this year’s Games have really come through in delivering on the core values of the competition, namely building relationships among northern neighbors.

“These kids are really bonding,” she said. “They’re starting to meet the other boarders as well as some of the other participants. That’s really neat.”

Despite the fun on the mountain, however, many of the participants Tuesday said they were dreading the two-hour bus ride back to Soldotna. In fact, Team Alaska ski coach Erin McNally said that the night before, the teams didn’t get home in time for dinner.

“If the roads are bad again tonight we might not make it back for dinner again,” she said.

Missing dinner, however, isn’t always a bad thing. McNally told a story about the previous night, when a security officer at Redoubt Elementary took it upon herself to buy six pizzas for the ski team.

“She told me that if I helped her with her board, she’d buy us pizza,” she said. “That was nice.”

A pizza dinner for Alaska’s skiers would be well-deserved indeed. McNally said that the state’s skiers had an outstanding day in the slalom events, taking home a couple shiny gold ulus to add to Team Alaska’s total.

“It was a good day for Alaska,” she said.

Indeed. And also a good day for all the international competitors who came together from around the Arctic Circle to experience a snow-filled day of fun and friendly competition on the slopes.

“They all want to do their best, but they also want their friends to do as well as they can do,” Louise Matthews said following the day’s races. “It’s so nice to see that in sports.”

Full results for Tuesday’s slalom and boardercross events were not available at press time. They can be viewed today on the Arctic Winter Games Web site at www.awg2006.org.



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