Retired World Cupper Mielzynski crushes women’s field as Schmidiger fights for win on men’s side
Steamboat Springs, Colo. – Inspired by former teammate Valerie Grenier, who was busy winning her first-ever World Cup race in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, Canadian Erin Mielzynski carried her World Pro Ski Tour dominance from start to finish in Steamboat Springs on Saturday.
She did put in some extra effort to make it happen.
As if doing multiple head-to-head parallel slalom races on the steep track at Steamboat’s Howelsen Hill wasn’t enough, the 32-year-old slalom specialist started her morning practicing her start gate timing.
“Did you see how long I was up there? I think I did 20 starts. I took off my jacket and was hiking up,” said Mielzynski, who retired from a lengthy World Cup career after last season.
After earning the top qualifying spot in the WPST season opener in Steamboat on Friday, the Canadian crushed her competition all day long until Swedish racer and Westminster College business student Evelina Fredericcson edged her in the final run for the win. Mielzynski blamed a botched start on her second-place finish.
“I think for sure I did the starts better,” she said Saturday. “I skied smarter and I didn’t back off. There’s not a situation where you can back off.”
On the World Cup, Mielzysnki went directly from never landing in the top 10 to her first victory. That was in the Ofterschwang slalom in 2012, after which she notched another podium and numerous other top 10s (also in parallel) in her career. On Saturday, the retired World Cupper saw that Grenier dominated her race in Kranjska Gora and set out to follow suit. Mielzysnki handily won every single run Saturday, including the final, in which she once again faced Fredericcson, but beat her in both runs.
World Cup inspiration
“Val Grenier won today, won both runs. So, this morning I was like, OK if she wins, I’m going to win today. I took inspiration from her. I was like, just be like Val today. Focus on what you have to do. Just go dance with the gates. Dance with the snow. Dance with the jumps. Just enjoy it,” Mielzysnki said.
The enjoyment, particularly from the podium finishers, was palpable. Following runner-up Fredericcson, Mielzynski’s Sportsinsurance.com teammate and University of Colorado skier Kaitlyn Harsch managed to round out the podium in third, beating out University of Vermont racer Caroline Jones, who took fourth.
Reto Schmidiger edges Ankeny
On the men’s side, there were a handful of nail-biting finishes in Saturday’s action at Howelsen Hill, beginning in the quarterfinals. After notching his first-ever WPST victory on Friday, Norwegian Matthias Tefre was the obvious man to beat. American Tucker Marshall almost made it happen, winning the first run of the quarterfinal against the Norwegian. In a photo finish that came down to thousandths of a second (.003, to be specific), Tefre advanced.
In the semifinal round, however, WPST veteran Michael Ankeny gave him zero wiggle room. The former Dartmouth racer, a perennial Pro Tour contender, came straight to the start gate this weekend from his desk job in Minnesota. His only time on skis was coaching a high school team at Buck Hill. After taking down Tefre, the 31-year-old Minnesotan then faced 30-year-old Swiss slalom specialist Reto Schmidiger in the final.
Schmidiger, who has one World Cup win to his credit – in Team Parallel in 2016 – and a handful of top 10s in slalom, came to Steamboat as a WPST rookie on the heels of a narrowly missed NorAm slalom podium in Burke, VT.
In the round of 16, Schmidiger took down homegrown Steamboat racer Jack Reich, who put up a good fight. In the quarterfinals, the Swiss athlete faced three-time WPST overall champion Rob Cone. Cone beat him in the first run, but the Swissman prevailed. In the semifinal, he went up against hard-charging WPST veteran Simon Breitfuss Kammerlander. Kammerlander hooked a gate with his hand in the second run and Schmidiger advanced. Kammerlander would go on to defeat Tefre in the small final, rounding out the podium.
It was Schmidiger and Ankeny in the finals, the two having grown up racing together. Before taking to the course, Ankeny recalled the 2010 Junior World Ski Championship slalom race, in which he started with bib No. 1, but DNFed as Schmidiger landed the win wearing bib No. 32.
In the first run of the final, Ankeny caught a rut near the top of the course as the Swiss racer fired ahead. Ankeny capitalized on the situation and threw a “twister learned from Jonny Mosely” trick off of the last of three jumps. In the final, starting at the maximum deficit of .6 seconds behind, Ankeny valiantly made up ground. But Schmidiger maintained the lead for the win.
“We know each other for years,” said Schmidiger, who embraced Ankeny in the finish. “I knew, second run, I had to go all in. It’s never over. You have so many good guys around from so many different countries. You become friends over these years. Now you are in this race, side by side. Every racer wants to win. After the finish line, you clap hands. It’s over and you smile.”
Ankeny, who won back-to-back WPST races on this hill in 2022, was pleased with his runner-up performance.
“It’s always fun to be in the position of chasing because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” he said. “Reto, he’s such a solid skier. He’s been top 10 in World Cup slalom races. I gave myself every opportunity I could to come back and was able to reel him in a bit. I was pretty proud of myself for that.”
The 2023 World Pro Ski Tour continues Feb. 10-12 in Bear Valley, Calif.
Women’s WPST January 7th parallel slalom results and standings after first two races
Click to enlarge images