Olympic racers begin training on King

By Jim Stanford on February 9, 2010

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Sunset in Sestriere, Italy, on the eve of the 2006 Winter Games.

Three days before the lighting of the Olympic flame in Vancouver, ski racers from the U.S. Olympic Team have arrived in Jackson and begun training on Snow King Mountain.

Hailey Duke and Megan McJames are on the slopes of the King this morning preparing for the slalom and giant slalom events. The two will fly to Vancouver to participate in the opening ceremonies Friday, but will return to Jackson on Saturday along with U.S. teammate Sarah Schleper.

The French team is due later this week. Starting Sunday, a two-day race on the King will serve as an Olympic preview, with some of the fastest skiers in the world tuning up for the races at Whistler. The Jackson Hole Ski Club will host two events next week where the public can meet the racers.

U.S. coaches Seth McCadam and Trevor Wagner, both of whom have ties to Jackson, arrived Sunday and worked on the course. McCadam, who coached for the Ski Club for eight years, said the clear, cold conditions are ideal for training.

“Knowing what we can get here, and what we need, as well as the community connections and support, it was a no-brainer for us,” he said of the decision to come to Snow King.

Sarah Schleper, left, dances with U.S. teammate Resi Stiegler following the last race of the 2006 Olympics. Schleper is back for her fourth Olympics.

The rest of the women on the U.S. Ski Team who did not make the Olympics also are coming to Jackson to compete in the high-level FIS race, part of the National Development Series. The French women, several of whom have won World Cup slalom and GS races this season, will compete as well.

After the conclusion of the race and awards ceremony on Presidents’ Day, Feb. 15, the Ski Club will host a reception at Snow King Center where the Olympians will sign autographs. The event will start anywhere from 2 to 4 p.m., depending on when the race finishes. On Feb. 17, the club is holding a fund-raiser with the athletes and coaches at Teton Village.

“Come out and check out the race,” said Carrie Pennington, Ski Club director. “Fifty of the top athletes in the world are competing, and it’s free.”

Megan McJames is one of the up-and-coming young racers on the U.S. team.

Duke, 24, is from Boise, Idaho, while McJames, 22, is from Park City, Utah. Both are competing in their first Olympics.

Schleper, 30, of Vail, Colo., will be competing in her fourth Olympics and is likely the Americans’ best medal contender in slalom and GS. She has returned to racing after giving birth to a son two years ago.

The U.S. team is led by two-time defending World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn, who is expected to vie for medals in five events. Veterans Bode Miller and Ted Ligety head the men’s side.

The speed skiers — those who compete in downhill and super-G — are headed to Whistler early for training. Only the technical racers — slalom and giant slalom — will be practicing on Snow King. The U.S. men’s technical team is in Park City before the Olympics.

U.S. racer Resi Stiegler of Jackson Hole will not compete in the games after breaking her leg in November, but Stiegler will be in Vancouver doing promotional work for sponsor Audi.

Schleper shreds a World Cup slalom course earlier this season in Aspen.

The timing of pre-Olympic racing on Snow King coincides with the return of the sun to the steep, north-facing slopes. U.S. coaches injected water into the course, which, coupled with this week’s cold spell, have created the, um, firm conditions preferred by racers. Meanwhile, up in Canada, Olympic organizers are struggling with mild weather and lack of snow at some of the venues.

McCadam said the atmosphere in Jackson is like a retreat and will help the skiers stay focused. Park City, the team’s home base, is a hive of pre-Olympic activity.

“It’s good to get away from a lot of that scene where you’re bombarded with so much stuff,” McCadam said, after enjoying a day of skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Monday. “This is a nice, little remote area to get away, while everyone else is dealing with a lot of hectic extra stuff.”

The trip marks a homecoming for coach Wagner, too, who grew up in Jackson and whose mother, Cindy, taught skiing at Snow King.

Will the Town Hill be a launching pad for Olympic champions? In 2002, skiers from eight nations trained here on their way to the Salt Lake City Olympics. Those skiers were so successful that the Jackson Hole News ran a “Snow King Medals Tracker” to keep a running tally of medals won — nine in all.

Update: The Wyoming Special Olympics also opened Tuesday and will run through Thursday at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Athletes will compete in alpine and cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. Volunteers are needed to help, or to cheer on the Olympians.

To volunteer, call Emery at (307) 690-4551.

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Olympic racers to train on Snow King (Dec. 29, 2009)

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