Anchorage — When the best skiers from the western U.S., ages 14 and 15 converge on Alyeska Ski Resort this week for the Alpine U-16 Western Regional Championships, they are likely to find near-perfect racing trails for the slalom, giant slalom and super-G competition scheduled Tuesday through Friday.
"Couldn't ask for better conditions," said Aaron Stiassny, the chief of races for the event. "It's been hot during the day and cold at night. The surface sets up overnight and that's really beneficial for racing."
Stiassny, 32, was a 16-year-old competitor the last time Alyeska hosted a Junior Olympics event -- the 1997 Western Region Junior II Olympics for skiers ages 15-16. The event is held in various locations each year and serves as a showcase for future stars of the sport.
"The Western Region has been dominant for the junior racing in the U.S.," Stiassny said.
This year's field of 172 includes 2012 medalists Molly Leavens, Isabella Wright, Luke Winters and Luke Mathers, as well as top Alaskans Juliette Parke, Amanda Lundgren, Margo Lane, Ashlee Weller and Garrett Mashburn.
The top 10 boys and girls in each event will advance to April's U-16 National Assessment Project in Park City, Utah, where top performers have a chance to make the U.S. Ski Association Academy Team.
This week's event will look and feel a lot like the 1997 championships, Stiassny said. The only significant difference is the lack of a downhill race. There will be a downhill race, but it's not part of the Junior Olympics.
"We're calling it the state championship," Stiassny said.
After skiers prepare and train Sunday and Monday, a busy day of racing is set for Tuesday, when the girls will race giant slaloms on two different courses and the boys will face two tight slalom courses.
Racing continues Wednesday with boys taking on the giant slaloms and the girls switching to slaloms. Friday's super-G will conclude the championships, setting the stage for downhill training and racing Saturday and Sunday.