The interest level in freeride skiing has increased significantly in Southcentral Alaska over the last handful of years.
And so too, it seems, has the quality of the skiers.
The IFSA Junior National Freeride Competition wrapped up Thursday at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. Members of the Alyeska Ski Club swept the top spots in each of the ski divisions.
The team’s membership has more than tripled from the 2017-18 season, from 30 skiers to more than 100, according to Alyeska Freeride Program Director Drew Petrie.
Freeride skiing is downhill skiing but is different from traditional racing or slalom runs: It incorporates tricks and jumps with a more free-flowing line, with judges determining point totals for each run.
Anchorage’s Paul Melchert, who competed at the junior worlds earlier this year and was fresh off a win in a national competition at Crystal Mountain in Washington, took first in the 15-18 skiing division with a total of 62.37.
“Our team did very well,” Petrie said. “Paul Melchert ending up on top for his age division was absolutely phenomenal. We swept the podium for the 12- to 14-year-olds, and that is always a fantastic feeling.”
Both the boys and girls 12-14 age categories were swept by Alyeska skiers. In the girls division, Penelope Garton-Barendregt took the top spot followed by Caroline Buddenberg and Kyla Gurry.
On the boys side, it was Kyle Porter, Carson Hawes and Dean Haines crowding the medal stand for the Alyeska team.
Marija Wunnicke won the 15-18 girls division, and her Alyeska teammate Lauren Johnson also finished on the podium in third.
While the ski categories were dominated by Alyeska competitors, the snowboard divisions were not. Devon Bryan won the 15-18 boys division, while Alpental Freeride skier Alexandra Paz took the 15-18 girls division. Saylor Howell won the girls 12-14 snowboarding title.
Alyeska’s North Face is billed as the longest continuous double black diamond run in North America. The venue for the race, The Knuckles, is over 1,500 vertical feet, according to Petrie. That offers some extra challenges in the competition, he said.
“The thing that makes the venue difficult besides being steep is the endurance the athletes must have to make a top-to-bottom run without stopping,” he said. “Staying on your line and in control throughout were some of the hardest things for the athletes.”
Petrie said 13 competitors from the Alyeska team are traveling to Whistler, British Columbia, later this month for what will likely be their final competition of the season.
IFSA Junior National Freeride Competition
12-14 girls skiing
Penelope Garton-Barendregt, Alyeska Ski Club, 58.07
Caroline Buddenberg, Alyeska Ski Club, 56.16
Kyla Gurry, Alyeska Ski Club, 55.30
15-18 girls skiing
Marija Wunnicke, Alyeska Ski Club, 60.60
Finley Tanner, Northwest Freeride, 59.10
Lauren Johnson, Alyeska Ski Club, 58.84
12-14 girls snowboarding
Saylor Howell, IFSA Independent, 53.13
15-18 girls snowboarding
Alexandra Paz, Alpental Freeride, 54.67
Elle Johnson IFSA Independent, 52.40
Sophia SB Paz, Alpental Freeride, 40.50
12-14 boys skiing
Kyle Porter, Alyeska Ski Club, 62.46
Carson Hawes, Alyeska Ski Club, 61.63
Dean Haines, Alyeska Ski Club, 61.20
15-18 boys skiing
Paul Melchert, Alyeska Ski Club, 62.37
Jack Dolan, Team Palisades Tahoe, 62.33
Tyler Blocker, Ascents Freeride Team, 61.73
15-18 boys snowboarding
Devon Bryan, IFSA Independent, 55.83
Kai Davi, Team Palisades Tahoe, 55.06
James “Lyle” Stone, Sugar Bowl Ski Team & Academy, 55.03