34th annual Huntsman Cup will feature more than 30 athletes￼
Sanctioned races will run Feb. 1-3 at Park City Mountain
More than 30 adaptive athletes will compete Feb. 1-3 during the 34th annual Huntsman Cup at Park City Mountain.
The race, which includes giant slalom races on the first two days and two-run slaloms on the last day, is hosted by the National Ability Center, also known as the NAC, a local nonprofit that empowers individuals of all abilities by building self-esteem, confidence and lifetime skills through sport, recreation and educational programs, according to its website discovernac.org.
Tracy Meier, NAC’s program and education director, said all races, which are free and open to public spectators, will feature athletes from around the world.
“We’ll see a lot of variety, especially some home-town athletes who are in our program, and the Winter Park area,” she said. “We’ll see some other countries as well.”
Throughout the years, the Huntsman Cup has grown in popularity and scope, according to Meier.
“It’s changed certainly with typical alpine ski racing along with the Paralympic schedule and support for athletes with disabilities,” she said. “We’ve also seen an increase in numbers in athletes that are sticking around for a longer time period, which is really fun.”
The race is also sanctioned by the International Ski and Snowboard Federation, Meier said.
“It does allow athletes to gain points and test their skills against some of the best in the world, as well as being a great race as a first-time experience in this community,” she said. “It also provides adaptive athletes, hopefuls for future Paralympic games, the chance to build technical racing skills and qualify for upper-level competition.”
The original goal for the Huntsman Cup, which was founded in 1989, was to bring people to Park City and ensure athletes with a variety of skill levels to have the chance to race on competitive courses, Meier said.
“I can think of some of our current racers where this was one of their first races,” she said. “I remember how those first turns during those first races were difficult, but now, years later, we’re seeing them ripping up the courses and bringing home some medals.”
One of the athletes Meier is referring to is Saylor O’Brien, a monoskier who hails from Woodland.
This year marks O’Brien’s eighth Huntsman Cup, and it’s also her first year on the U.S. Para Alpine National Team.
“Coming back home and racing the Huntsman Cup is exciting and almost a long-awaited exhale of my breath,” she said during an email interview. “I get to see all my NAC teammates and coaches and support them and have some fun. I know the hill extremely well and feel like I can just let the skis fly.”
While this year will be a little different for O’Brien as far as being on the national team, she hasn’t changed her racing strategy approach.
“I try to keep things similar to my race processes at home,” she said. “I’ve created a plan for myself and my progression for the year. It’s just about trying to execute those plans. (But) I would say that this year I have more hunger than last year to stick my face in this season’s competitions and ski the way I know I can.”
One of O’Brien’s goals for this year is to scare herself.
“As crazy as that sounds, I think Huntsman is a great competition to just send it with some risk, see what happens and take that into some higher level of intensity (so I can) build some confidence in my skiing capabilities,” she said.
Competing in the Huntsman Cup has given O’Brien the exposure to inspire other athletes, she said.
“Every year our NAC team gets bigger and bigger, and I think it helps to showcase this kind of race where people can watch and be encouraged to get into it,” she said. “Personally, it’s a great race to get points for the season and to see my community come to support me.”
One of the biggest challenges O’Brien has faced this past year is maintaining her confidence.
“It’s something that you can lose in an instant, and it takes time to gain it all back,” she said. “I think skiing can really test your confidence, and sometimes that can mess with you. It certainly messed with me a bit this season, and it can rock you and your mental performance.”
Working on that is an ongoing experience for O’Brien.
“We often dismiss feelings that are uncomfortable and threatening and pretend they don’t exist, (and) those are what I call ‘boomerangs,’” she said. “You can get rid of it for a little while, but it will always show back up later. (So it’s) better to let it exist as it is and acknowledge those emotions than to let them sit on the back burner to start a fire.”
That said, O’Brien loves all aspects — the competition, the racing and the people — of the Huntsman Cup.
“I enjoy every little piece of the experience,” she said. “Seeing my coaches early in the morning, waxing my skis, the chair ride up, the anticipation at the start, the adrenaline after, watching other athletes, seeing people who came to watch, cheering for my competitors. It’s one of the highlights of my season.”
Meier said it’s an honor the Huntsman Cup has been part of the adaptive community for nearly 35 years.
“It’s also an honor to have the support of the Huntsman Foundation and our home resort of Park City to continue to have this race be part of the annual schedule for athletes with disabilities to compete and train for and come to such an amazing mountain to test their skills,” she said.
While the events are free and open for the public to watch, volunteering is another way to get up close and personal with some athletes, Meier said.
“We have a variety of different volunteer spots, and, depending on the position, there are some prerequisites and a little bit of homework,” she said.
All volunteers need to be age18 or older, and on-course volunteers need to be comfortable on skis, but there are other positions available for those who would rather stay in their regular snow boots, Meier said.
Meanwhile, Meier hopes the community will come to support the athletes during the races.
“We want the world to ultimately understand that ski racing is ski racing and everybody deserves the right to do it,” she said. “It’s awesome we have the opportunity in this community to show respect and love for our athletes with disabilities.”
Santa Claus returns to the Park City Ice Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 12, from 5 to 7 p.m. for the annual Santa Skate! Don’t forget to bring your ski or bike helmet to wear while you’re on the ice. Complimentary skating and rentals.
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