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Queen of the Mountain

ASHLAND — The Thorndike family name is a common one in the Mount Ashland competitive skiing circles.

But Isabella Thorndike, the youngest of the family of four, has brought statewide familiarity to the name.

The Ashland High senior, nicknamed "Izzy", will attempt to capture her third consecutive state ski racing title beginning Thursday at the Oregon Interscholastic Ski Racing Association's (OISRA) State Alpine Ski Racing Championships to be held at Mt. Hood Meadows.

"It's just amazing," Ashland coach Gary King says of Thorndike's run to two state titles. "I feel blessed to have an athlete like her to work with."

Making Thorndike's feat even more impressive is the slim margin for error ski racers face. With ever-changing conditions, each slip-up could prove costly.

Thorndike won her first state title as a sophomore by a mere 0.04 seconds and her second by 0.87 seconds.

At a state meet, run times from slalom and giant slalom — a longer run with wider spaced poles — are combined to determine the overall state champion.

"Usually you'll find an athlete good at one and not the other," says King, who has coached Thorndike since age 8. "She's good at both."

He adds: "On the giant slalom, there are 60 gates and every turn has to be perfect. What that says about Isabella is how fundamentally solid she is."

Thorndike combines a demanding practice schedule — she spends roughly 17 hours each week on the mountain — with a strength training routine to gain her competitive edge.

She is a member of the Ashland

Thorndike combines a demanding practice schedule — she spends roughly 17 hours each week on the mountain — with a strength training routine to gain her competitive edge. Rowing Club and is a regular in the weight room.

"I work really hard off the hill as well," Thorndike says. "It takes a lot of self-motivation since it's such an individual sport. But if you want to do it well, you have to put in the extra time."

It's been a typical season for Thorndike in 2007-08. She placed first in all but one race — one she missed to work on her senior project.

"Usually in our league, she beats the boys," King said.

Thorndike comes from an avid skiing family. Her father Dan is the Ashland Nordic Ski Team coach and her mother Joan, a native of Santiago, Chile, coaches 6-8-year-olds for the Mount Ashland Racing Association.

Izzy's sister Camila, currently a student at Whitman College in Spokane, Wash., also raced and later coached through MARA.

Izzy's time on the mountain started rather inauspiciously at the age of 7.

"I was kind of forced to do it (by my parents)," Thorndike says. "It was cold and I was small. I've definitely grown into it a little bit more."

No question about that.

"She wasn't drawn to it all," Joan says of Izzy's first trip to the mountain. "I should have been turned into child services. She had a look of terror.

"I've been skiing my whole life and I wanted my children to have a social life on the mountain. This year, (Izzy and Camila) both thanked me for forcing them to ski."

There's no doubt about her competitive desire for the sport now. After the first day of the 2007 state championships, which were held at Mt. Ashland, Joan found Izzy in her room, tears streaming down her face.

She was in second place.

"She said, 'My legs really hurt, and I think I've disappointed everyone in the community. They expect me to win,' " Joan says. "It really broke my heart that she felt that way. Fortunately, there was another day. She took off and had the most beautiful slalom run I've ever seen her do."

And her grace on the mountain makes King's job a difficult one.

"As a coach, it's hard to find things that she's not doing right," he says. "Sure I can find something once in a while, but she's so fundamentally sound that even if she was lacking, it's so minute that so many people would say, 'Wow, she's perfect.'"

Ashland’s Isabella Thorndike schins down a gate in the last slalom of the regular Southern League season. - Photo by Andy Atkinson