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Native McJames makes a name for herself

Paul Robbins, Special to the Record

While Ted Ligety was having a party at the World Cup and Olympic level this season – and he was! – another Park City skier was doing pretty well in alpine racing, too.

Megan McJames, 18-year-old first-born of Sue and Scott McJames – and a Winter Sports School grad last November, tore through the NorAm schedule this past winter like Sherman’s march through Georgia. She didn’t take a lot of prisoners, she left a lot of folks going, "Wow!" and when the season was done, McJames was the women’s overall champion, the giant slalom champion and the super-G champ. Quite a hat trick.

Not bad for someone who got her start – at age 2 – at Alta, where Mom and Dad were ski instructors. And as she grew, and Alta has no racing program, McJames joined the Park City Ski Education Foundation when she was 8, and 10 years later she seems assured of a spot on the U.S. Ski Team next season.

Winning a discipline title or being runner-up in the NorAm points guarantees an athlete start rights in World Cup races the next season. That means she could be seeing quite a bit of World Cup racing next winter although U.S. coaches probably will space her opportunities, making sure she’s ready for the level she’ll face.

McJames, who left Tuesday for season-ending races in the Spring Series at California’s Mammoth Mountain, also understands that would be a HUGE leap from what she’s been used to at the NorAm level. She’ll move cautiously into the World Cup swirl.

"We had a really good training block over the summer," she said. "I trained against some girls who were faster and that just pushed me along.

"I tried to go into the season and tried to be confident," she went on, "and think about my skiing, and not the placing. It all fell into place."

She opened the season in December at Winter Park, Colo., and was the top American each day; in the first giant slalom, McJames was on the podium with a pair of Austrian superstars-in-the-making, Nicole Hosp and Kathrin Zettel. The next day, she was eighth.

The schedule turned to downhills at Lake Louise, Alberts, and she was sixth and fifth. At Panorama, B.C., she was first and second in two super-Gs.

"The first NorAms at Winter Park had a pretty good field, all these European World Cuppers" who were tuning up for the races in Aspen a week or so later. "I was on the podium and thought, ‘I’m actually keeping up with all these people. And then Lake Louise, and then the super-Gs at Panorama were pretty well."

She won three super-Gs in Canada, had a pair of podiums in giant slalom "and I went home for Christmas and rest, just tried to keep maintaining my energy levels," she said

January brought picking up valuable experience in the Europa Cup meatgrinder, which is generally considered to be more competitive than the World Cup because you’ve kids coming up thrashing it out with veterans who are trying to get back to the World Cup level. It’s a volatile mix and can be murderous on the psyche of young skiers.

McJames wasn’t rattled. She produced three top-40s, but – and this may be more important – she didn’t seem to be rattled by any of the "paying dues" lessons who learned.

"The Europa Cup is definitely tough. I did a couple – some speed, one or two giant slaloms, a couple of super-Gs," she said. "The competition level is really different because even the last girl is skiing really well. It’s about who’s the most tough mentally."

Dave Galusha, head of the Park City Ski Team program, wasn’t too surprised by her performance this winter.

"Megan’s definitely got a few positive things going for her. Her touch and line [i.e., picking the fastest route down a run] are amazing. And her positive approach get through from one day to the next when things don’t go so well, which is pretty unique at her age.

"She’s got a tremendous aerobic fitness level and Megan’s always been very competitive," Galusha said. "She goes at it."

Once she returns from the Spring Series at Mammoth, she’ll catch her breath through the end of this month, getting ready for a training and testing camp in May. She knows she’s about to make a major step forward in her skiing and McJames, whose younger brother Kevin also races for the Park City Ski Team, wants to ensure she’s ready for whatever comes at her. Again.


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