Prior to the 2011-12 ski season, the U.S. Ski Team had no clue how talented the younger skiers in the country were.
That year, a camp was started to evaluate the country's elite talent at the under-16 age level.
"Two years ago, we had no idea what this age group was like nationally," Dr. Lester Keller, the regional development director for the U.S. Ski Team, said. "We wanted to see what we had. We wanted to judge where we are as a nation by getting a good look at this age group."
This year, the camp has been refined, allowing national coaches to see exactly where the country stands in comparison to other elite countries at the youth level.
So they invited the top 60 U16 skiers in the country 30 boys and 30 girls to Park City Mountain Resort, beginning Monday, April 1, for a weeklong camp.
But as alpine director Patrick Riml was quick to point out, this wasn't an instructional camp.
"It's a competition," he said. "It's a test. But we saw some great skiing."
The skiers competed in freeskiing, skills quest (focusing on technique and tactics), giant slalom, slalom and parallel races, earning points based on their speed, technique and where they finished.
Sky Kelsey of the Aspen Valley Ski Club finished the week with 405 points to claim the U16 men's national championship, with Michael Cooper of the Santa Barbara Ski Club taking second place with 269 points.
On the women's side, Storm Klomhaus of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Academy in Park City finished with 290 points, edging teammate Stephanie Lebby, who had 270 points.
Keller said having the young athletes compete for a title was an excellent way to judge their progress.
"This is the first time we've ever had a national championship for this age group," he said. "It's pretty exciting and we were able to get a pretty good idea of where we are as a nation and what we need to work on."
He added that he's happy with where the U.S. currently stands, but improvement is needed to consistently compete with top European powers.
"We're a little deeper than we were last year, so it's encouraging progress," he said. "Our message to the nation is we need to do a lot more fitness."
He said that better fitness will lead to better overall skiers, instead of skiers who specialize only in one event.
With better overall skiers, he added, comes a better opportunity to compete on an international level.
"Making the national team isn't the goal," he said. "The goal is winning World Cups and Olympic gold medals."