Ritchie Earns Inaugural National Title at U.S. Alpine Championships
Under the sunshine at Aspen Highlands, Land Rover U.S. Alpine Ski Team athlete and 2021 World Junior Slalom Champion Ben Ritchie emerged victorious at the slalom kickoff of the U.S. Alpine Championships. Middlebury College's Erik Arvidsson was second, and Garret Driller rounded out the podium in third.
Due to the forecasted warm weather, organizers made the decision to move the program up, with an early 7:30 a.m. first run start. The decision proved to be a good move, as the sun burned through the clouds at the end of the second run, roasting the surface. The course crew did a great job with the conditions considering the temperatures, and the surface was surprisingly solid and skiable.
"This morning we all thought that it was going to be one of the worst races of the year, but the snow is way better than I would ever expect it would have been...even with the warm weather," commented the 20-year-old Ritchie. "So, hopefully, it will stay like that through the week."
It was a tricky, offset first run set that kept the athletes on their toes and turning all the way down. It also meant there were a lot of DNFs—33 to be exact, including World Cup mainstay Jett Seymour. Aspen local Bridger Gile also went out first run, having run into trouble at the bottom of the course, straddling. After the first run, Luke Winters was in first by .45 seconds over Arvidsson, with Greece's AJ Ginnis in third, .51 off the Winters' pace.
As the sun burned through the clouds second run, the surface started to soften slightly, and 18 more athletes DNFed, including Ginnis, as well as Land Rover U.S. Alpine Ski Team athletes Isaiah Nelson (in sixth after first run) and Winters. Ritchie had the fastest second run time to take the victory by a nearly one-second margin (.84) over Arvidsson, with Driller 1.35 off Ritchie's pace in third.
After a successful season over in Europe, headlined by his first Europa Cup slalom victory, a top-15 (13th place) result at World Championships, and a World Junior Championships gold medal in slalom, the national slalom title was the icing on the cake to Ritchie's season.
"It's definitely been a really different season than I would have ever expected—had its weird moments with COVID and ups and downs with results," reflected Ritchie. "But, I think throughout the whole year I made a really solid, steady increase in my racing performance in skiing, which eventually turned out to have some good results at World Juniors, World Championships, and some good skiing here and there. I'm happy with the progress I made this year...it's nice to finish with a Nationals win—I've never won before—and I'm excited for what next year holds."
The 2016 World Junior downhill champ Arvidsson, who had a strong season in Europe, with three Europa Cup downhill top-five results including two victories and an eighth place at the FIS Ski World Cup downhill in Saalbach, Austria—his first World Cup points—will be one to watch the entire week at U.S. Alpine Championships, with his best events yet to come.
The three fastest juniors for the day were Ritchie—who is in his final year as a junior, followed by University of Utah's Wilhelm Normannseth, and Australian Henry Heaydon.
Looking back to one year ago when 2020 U.S. Alpine Tech Championships were slated to take place at Aspen, it's a miracle the event is able to happen at all this season. Despite the fact that there are no spectators and limited media at the event, there is a sense of gratitude for the ability to race at all. Fans can follow the action via Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Up next for the men is giant slalom on Tuesday, headlined by Colorado native River Radamus.
The 2021 U.S. Alpine Championships at Aspen is contingent on local and state health department approvals based on existing and future COVID-19 rules and regulations. FIS, U.S. Ski & Snowboard, the local organizing committee, and Aspen Snowmass are taking a unified approach consistent with guidance from federal, state, and local health authorities.
2021 U.S. Alpine Championships at Aspen - Event Schedule
Tuesday, April 6, Giant Slalom National Championships, Men
Wednesday, April 7, Super-G/Alpine Combined National Championships, Men
Friday, April 9, Downhill Training, Men/Women
Saturday, April 10, Downhill Training, Men/Women
Sunday, April 11, Downhill National Championships, Men/Women
Tuesday, April 13, Super-G/Alpine Combined National Championships, Women
Thursday, April 15, Giant Slalom National Championships, Women
Friday, April 16, Slalom National Championships, Women
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