At Huntsman Cup, para-alpine skiers earn points as World Cup season draws to close
February 2, 2018
Para-alpine skiing athletes representing 12 countries converged on Park City on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for the 29th annual Huntsman Cup. The three-day event, which is organized by the National Ability Center and sanctioned by the International Paralympic Committee for Alpine Skiing, served as one of the last chances for athletes to earn points toward qualifying for the Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, during what has been an unpredictable alpine season.
Most of the World Cup events staged in Europe have been canceled because weather conditions weren't conducive to racing, especially downhill and super-G races.
"We just came back from a couple weeks in Europe where we got two out of eight races off — one GS, one slalom," said Kevin Burton, a visually impaired athlete currently ranked third by the IPCAS in downhill, along with his guide, Brandon Ashby. "We had a whole speed series canceled and a couple tech series' canceled."
The World Para Alpine Skiing World Cup website currently lists only four days of results from across the six-stage World Cup season, all from Veysonnaz, Switzerland.
"It's been meters and meters of snowfall," Ashby said. "All our races have been pretty much canceled over there."
Unlike recreational skiing, racing requires a hard surface, which is impossible to create in heavy snowfall.
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Tyler Walker, who is ranked fifth in men's sitting slalom, concurred.
The Huntsman Cup was "one of the few times I've run speed all season," he said. "I'm trying to get used to the speed again and go fast, and really this is a training opportunity for Pyeongchang next month."
Meanwhile, American sit-skiing racer Anna Beninati, who is most competitive in technical events, said the Hunstman Cup was her final race of the season before the Winter Games.
"It's a little nerve-wracking," she said. "A lot of the team is going to Canada next week for World Cup Finals, which I was going to go to, but they cut all the tech events out; there's no GS and no slalom. Kind of unprecedented to have an only-speed finals."
Which leaves Beninati and other technical racers waiting to see how the points develop at next week's competition in Kimberley, Canada, before she can start to tease out her position regarding placement on the U.S. Olympic Team. Fortunately for those not going to Kimberley, the Huntsman Cup drew enough high-level racers to make it a point-lucrative event, because athletes are judged by who they race against.
"Due to the people that were here, the points you get from the race were really good," said Katrina Schaber, who took first in Thursday's standing super-G races. "And based on how I did and how I finished, it will probably help my points and help me qualify."
Each nation can send a total of 20 men and 10 women in alpine skiing for the 2018 Paralympic Games in March, though Schaber said the U.S. will send only six women, though there are currently nine who could go.
"Hopefully, maybe the World Cup Finals will help with points, but like I said, you don't know until the final list comes out, because everything is changing," she said. "Someone can get injured and you never know."
During the final day of racing, athletes lingered around the finish line just up from Payday Lift at Park City Mountain Resort, and relaxed into casual conversation as the competition drew down.
Schaber said the para-alpine circuit is close knit. Most of the athletes know each other. She added that returning to Park City for her sixth Huntsman Cup gave her a chance to reconnect with good friends.
"It's a race where we can kind of all get together and enjoy having a fun race where a lot of people are here," she said. "That's typically how a race feels. A lot of us know each other really well. In a way, it's a way for us to reconnect and see each other outside of training."
Walker said that, though the para-alpine skiing group can relax around each other, it doesn't mean the Winter Games will lack a competitive edge.
"(I've) been doing a series of World Cups this year with the same competition I'm going to see out there, and everyone is super good," he said. "We're all really ready and I think the races will be really good and tight."