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Mount Ashland hosts championships

Some 500 ski-toting souls — including competitors along with their friends, family and fans — will descend upon Ashland Wednesday, March 2, for the Oregon Interscholastic Ski Racing Association alpine state championships at Mount Ashland.

The three-day event, last hosted by Mount Ashland in 2007, begins today with pre-race festivities at the Historic Ashland Armory. The opening ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. and the dinner-dance at 6 p.m. Racing begins Thursday with the boys giant slalom and girls slalom and wraps up Friday with the girls giant slalom and boys slalom.

Closing ceremonies, a slide show and an awards show will also be held at the armory beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

The event, which will include competitors from across the state, was organized in part by local ski coach Gary King, who’s coached Ashland High’s alpine team for 10 years and Medford’s teams for the last four. All told, King coaches skiers from six Rogue Valley high schools — South and North Medford, Phoenix, Crater, St. Mary’s and Ashland.

King, who’s the OISRA alpine director, lobbied successfully for the OISRA to bring its main event back to Southern Oregon.

“The last two years it’s been at Mount Hood and everybody’s tired of going to the same place every year,” King said. “I really pushed hard that we would do it this year.”

King said the entire event is run by parent volunteers. A core group of about eight people has been meeting once a week for the last three months in preparation for the state championships, and several subcommittees have also been put to work. In all, about 50 volunteers have donated their time to the cause, King said.

One of their biggest challenges was to find enough sponsors, and volunteers were able to do that. The event’s two biggest sponsors are local businesses Adroit Construction and TC Chevrolet.

“We actually had to go out and try to fundraise, and it’s kind of hard to hit up people who have already given heavily to Mount Ashland and other places,” King said. “So we feel pretty lucky, but we have a great community of ski racers. And after the last two years with hardly any snow, people have really come together this year.”

As for this year’s snowfall, Mount Ashland has received 231 inches this season, but none in the week leading up to state. Still, the report from the mountain Tuesday night measured 118 inches at the summit and 66 on the lower section. Rain is in the forecast for Wednesday, but snow is expected to move in Thursday and Friday.

The slopes may not be perfect, but dealing with adverse weather conditions is something all skiers who head to a mountain in early March are accustomed to.

“And this is considered spring skiing,” King said. “When we were at Mount Hood last year it was pouring down rain on the day before the race, and then we had 40 or 50 mph winds on the Thursday and then we had a beautiful sunny day on the Friday. So part of ski racing is we prepare for whatever hits us. We just hope it doesn’t rain up there because the rain has taken away a lot of snow lately.”

The West Linn boys and Lincoln girls took home the combined team state championships last year, while the Ashland girls’ second-place finish represented the top performance by a local team.

King expects the Ashland girls to challenge for a state title again this time around on their home mountain. At the very least, he expects their tradition of excellence to shine through again. The Grizz girls have been in the top five at state every year under King, and last won it all in 2014.

Last year’s top skier for Ashland, Kelsey McKelvey, graduated off the team, but plenty of talent remains. Seniors Maddie Hunkele, who placed ninth at state in 2015, and Trueda Pollard lead a strong contingent of returners that also includes sophomore Frida Graumann, senior Karen Bach, junior Kaylyn Kraft and senior Meadow Sylvan.

The South Medford girls are led by Madison Eaton, who placed 12th at state last year, Elizabeth Beattie and Anna Rose. And Phoenix High freshman Amelia Volk may also make some noise.

In the running for boys’ trophies, according to King, are South Medford seniors AJ Flores-Alatorre and Cody Marthoski and Crater junior Griffin Hokanson.

For the Ashland boys, senior Noah Catropa, sophomore Ian Rinefort and junior Curtis Hills are the top challengers.

King was on the mountain helping out with some last-minute course work Tuesday and said the mountain looks good, though a little wet. Mount Ashland’s support, he added, has been stellar.

“Open doesn’t even begin to describe how helpful they’ve been,” King said. “They have been behind us from the start. We have a new manager, Hiram Towle … he’s been one of our saving graces. Him and his management team, they’ve been behind this all the way and they have bent over backwards to do whatever we need to make this happen. Same with the grooming, same with the managers on the mountain. Just everything is fantastic.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.