The Alyeska Ski Resort was the first place Wasilla's Gregory Peck ever tried monoskiing, and this week it became the site of his first medal in the U.S. Adaptive Alpine national championships.
Peck said Friday's bronze- medal performance in the men's sitting division of the Super G was one of the top highlights of his career, in part because it all began at Alyeska in 2006.
After a car accident in 2005 paralyzed Peck from the waist down, he came across a brochure for Challenge Alaska, an organization that provides therapeutic recreation for people with disabilities. A skiing program was on the list of activities offered, and Peck decided to check it out.
Peck, 24, was an avid snowboarder for ten years before his accident and he said the previous experience on the slopes eased his transition to the use of a monoski, a device with a molded seat connected to a single ski.
One day on the slopes was all Peck needed to start setting competitive goals. By his second run, Peck said he was starting to make advanced turns that most students needed four weeks to learn.
His instructors told him he might have a chance to win a gold medal someday, and started showing him videos of world-class monoskiers. Peck said as soon as he watched the videos, he knew he wanted to be included among the skiers on the screen.
In last year's Winter X Games, Peck proved himself one of the top monoskiers when he earned a silver medal in the men's mono ski cross event in Aspen, Colorado. A harrowing race with massive jumps and wicked turns, Peck took flight off the final jump, pleasing the crowd with his incredible hang time before crashing and sliding across the finish line on his back.
"Best day of my life," said Peck. "Unbelievable feelings."
Peck said he watched the Winter X Games religiously for years and always dreamed of competing someday, but said he is pretty sure he never would have made it as a snowboarder.
"I wasn't that strong of snowboarder," said Peck. "If I wasn't in a wheelchair, I never would have made it in the X Games."
In the future, Peck hopes to win a gold medal in the Winter X Games, compete on the World Cup circuit and make the U.S. Paralympic team in 2014.
"I definitely wrote a goals list and put it on my fridge," said Peck, who has a home in Winter Park, Colo., where he trains most of the year.
Jeremy Anderson, the director of Challenge Alaska, said the competition in Alaska can only take skiers so far. Once skiers reach a high enough level, they have to go to the Lower 48 to work with the best coaches and be pushed by the best skiers, a move Peck made in 2008.
Despite Peck rarely spending time at Alyeska anymore, Anderson said he will always be rooted there.
"This is his home mountain," said Anderson.
Peck is competing in his second national championship this week -- competition continues with the men's and women's slalom races today and the giant slalom on Sunday -- but it's his first time competing on the mountain where he developed his skills. In Friday's super combined competition, a two-run race that combines Super G with slalom, Peck held third place after the Super G, but stumbled at the end of the slalom to fall to sixth place.
He said the equipment he uses isn't suited to the sharp turns of the slalom as much as it is to the speed events like the Super G. The races he enjoys most allow him to point his ski down the hill and go fast.
Peck has begun passing on some of his knowledge to younger monoskiers and said coaching provides some of his most satisfying moments, especially when he sees the youngsters really start to grasp the techniques.
"I love it when they start getting hold of it," he said. "A smile on their face, cheering, that's what it's all about, just helping people."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
U.S. Adaptive Alpine National Championships
Friday at Alyeska Ski Resort
Women's visually impaired -- 1) Danelle Umstead, U.S., 1:51.44.
Women's standing -- 1) Anna Jochemsen, Netherlands, 1:48.27; 2) Stephanie Jallen, U.S., 1:57.34; 3) Melanie Schwartz, Canada, 1:57.45.
Women's sitting -- 1) Laurie Stephens, U.S., 2:12.94; 2) Sarah Holm, U.S., 2:36.20.
Men's standing -- 1) Ralph Green, U.S., 1:40.69; 2) Kirk Schornstein, Canada, 1:40.71; 3) Patrick Parnell, U.S., 1:46.49; 4) Joel Hunt, U.S., 1:55.15; 5) Ian Jansing, U.S., 1:55.28; 6) Mark Urich, U.S., 2:31.14.
Men's sitting -- 1) Jamin Bambur, Serbia, 1:38.96; 2) Tyler Walker, U.S., 1:39.45; 3) Erik Bayindirli, Turkey, 1:42.70; 4) Stephen Lawler, U.S., 1:47.58; 5) Caleb Brousseau, Canada, 1:53.10; 6) Gregory Peck, U.S., 1:54.56; 7) Arly Velasquez, Mexico, 2:05.95.