Eighth-grader Tom Heren recently qualified for the Junior National competition in Steamboat Springs, Colo., next week as an alpine (or downhill) skier.
Those who want to wish an alpine skier about to race down the hill the best of luck will tell him or her to “Rip it up.”
That’s the plan, says Tom, who has been to the Junior National competition over the past three years, although this will be his first competition in the U-16 age category.
The 14-year-old will compete in several events.
Downhill races are designed to be the longest and ultimately generate the highest speed from the skiers. Each skier makes one run only. The skier with the fastest time is the winner. As in all alpine events, skiers are timed to one hundredth of a second and any ties stand as that.
“They tend to throw a jump in there too, which can throw you anywhere from 20- to 40-feet,” said Tom’s father, Tim.
Super giant slalom, or super-G, is a racing discipline of alpine skiing. Along with the faster downhill, it is regarded as a "speed" event, in contrast to the technical events, giant slalom and slalom.
Slalom races are traditionally the shortest race. They are comprised of close-together turns or gates. Each competitor makes one run, then the course is reset on the same slope, but, with position of the gates changed. The same day, those skiers qualifying for the second run make their run. The fastest combined times of the two runs is the winner. Racers wear shin guards and pole guards and hit the gates with their fists to knock it down as they pass.
Giant slalom (GS) races are similar to the slalom races, but, there are fewer gates and wider turns are needed to navigate through them in the GS. As in slalom, skiers make two runs down two different courses on the same slope in the same day. The times of both runs are added together, and the fastest total time determines the winner.
Tom Heren started downhill skiing when he was 3. Dad Tim and Mom Vicky Heren were (and are) downhill skiers,Tim even skied competitively.
“When I was 6, my dad introduced me to the gates and I said, ‘I want to do that,” Tom said.
At age 7 he started in the junior racing league and it’s been go, go, go ever since, with Tom basically growing up (at least in the colder months) at Spirit Mountain.
Tom said he likes skiing because he gets to hang out with his friends a lot and because it’s very physical.
“There’s not a lot to hate,” said the Esko eighth-grader (who lives in Cloquet), adding that he is not afraid to go fast.
The whole family (Mom, Dad and Tom) joined “Team Duluth,” an organization that Tim described as “a bunch of families who hire coaches, buy gates, and arrange lanes on the hill for practices three times a week and weekend when there aren’t competitions.” Coaches for Team Duluth — which the Duluth Superior Alpine Club calls the club’s intermediate-advanced level racing program — include Scott “Race” Ransom, Nick Klingman, Wayne Quinones and Corey Danielski.
While practices and some meets are held at Spirit Mountain, Tom said he and his parents travel to a different USSA race nearly every weekend, including places like Lutsen and Giant’s Ridge in Minnesota, as well as ski resorts in Wisconsin and even Michigan.
He earned points throughout the season at different races, which ultimately earned him a spot at the Junior National competition next week.
“When you’re standing in the starting gate, thinking this run is gonna qualify you to go Nationals], it’s pretty nerve wracking,” Tom said.
When asked if that meant he was “calm, cool and collected” since he’s been three times already, Tom and Tim both chortle.
“You betcha,” said Tom, adding later that he’d like to be focusing on the course when he races but most the time he just draws a blank and skis, basically relying on his training and reaction time to get him down the hill.
Next week’s junior national competition in Colorado will pit members of the Central Division (which includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Ohio “but mostly Minnesota,” said Tim ) against the Rocky Mountain Division (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska “but mostly Colorado,” said Tim) as well as each other.
“The first year was pretty tough, but last year things were coming along,” said Tim. “He finished above his start in most events, and that’s pretty good.”
Tom said the Junior Nationals race is like the Superbowl of alpine skiing for his age, a grand finale.
“It’ll be fun,” he said.
And he’ll get another USSA junior nationals ski jacket to bring home, to show he did “rip it up” at Steamboat Springs yet another year.