Some of the biggest names in U.S. alpine skiing cut their teeth on the sport while bounding down the mountains of the Pacific Northwest as part of the Northwest Cup. Names like Debbie Armstrong and Phil and Steve Mahre, all of whom went onto Olympic glory, got their competitive starts as youths racing in the Northwest Cup.
And this week the best of the current generation’s regional youth skiers are converging on Stevens Pass to determine the champions of this season’s Northwest Cup.
The Northwest Cup finals take place Thursday through Sunday at the Stevens Pass Ski Area, and the host Stevens Pass Alpine Club is not only looking to put on a great event, it’s hoping to be a factor in the final results of the competition.
“This is basically the foundational level for what’s seen with the World Cup,” Kurt Westman, the president of the board of directors for the Stevens Pass Alpine Club, said. “This is where it starts for theses kids, it starts at the club level and divisional level. So it will be a high level of ski racing for being a young cohort of athletes.”
The Northwest Cup encompasses approximately 25 clubs from Washington, Oregon and north Idaho and is geared toward athletes primarily in the under-19 and under-16 age groups. The finals are the last of the series’ four races. A total of 180 athletes are competing this week as champions are crowned for both men and women in each discipline (slalom, giant slalom, super-G) in the overall and U16 categories. The team champion will also be determined.
Champions are determined by adding points earned this week to the points accumulated earlier in the season, so it’s not a case of winner takes all. For the majority of the racers this will end their competitive seasons.
Stevens, which draws its athletes primarily from Snohomish County and along the I-5 corridor stretching north into Bellingham and south into Seattle, is a mid-sized club. The division’s four largest clubs — the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation, the Schweitzer Alpine Ski School, the Crystal Mountain Alpine Club and the Mt. Hood Academy — tend to be the teams to beat in the Northwest Cup. However, Stevens finds itself right in the thick of things this season, and it’s all led by Tyler Larson.
Larson, a junior at Snohomish High School who competes in the men’s U19 category, is the runaway points leader. Going into the finals Larson has 620 points, which is 180 more than the next-best competitor, Samuel Cox of the Mt. Spokane Ski Race Team.
“I think I’m having a really good season so far,” said Larson, who’s seeking his first Northwest Cup championship. “I’ve always raced against kids who were older, like in their 20s. There are some that age who have raced this year, but this has been my best year so far.”
Larson already has three race wins this season, two in giant slalom and one in slalom, with all three coming during the first Northwest Cup race of the season on Jan. 4-6 at Crystal Mountain.
“He’s had a great season,” Stevens head coach Dave Lyon said. “When we look at the Northwest Cup he’s done fantastic, and he’s represented us well at higher levels all year.”
Lyon said the Stevens team as a whole, has had a good season. Although Stevens is a mid-sized club and has a young team this season, it heads into finals third in the overall team standings, fourth in the men’s standings and fifth in the women’s standings.
Stevens has approximately 20 skiers racing this week. Lyon listed several other team members who could show well. On the women’s side Erica Debley of Seattle ranks 11th in the overall points standings while Zoe McDevitt of Leavenworth and Amelia Stocking of Everett rank 23rd and 24th, respectively. Campbell Butzleff of Seattle is ninth in the U16 women’s standings (20th overall) and Madison Von Melville of Lake Stevens is 11th (26th overall).
On the men’s side for Stevens, in addition to Larson, Cale Westman of Seattle ranks 24th overall and Zac Holton of Leavenworth ranks 10th among U16s (30th overall).
Getting to race on their home hill gives the Stevens skiers an added advantage in the Northwest Cup’s final event.
“It’s the hill we ski on all the time, so they’re comfortable with all the terrain changes and everything,” Lyon said. “The snow conditions, yeah we’re all in the Northwest, but the snow does vary between us and eastern Washington and Oregon as it’s a little wetter and doesn’t pack down quite as hard.
“This is a showcase of the best ski racing athletes in the Northwest,” Lyon added. “It will be a fun thing to see.”
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