Steamboat Springs Former U.S. Ski Team alpine racer Casey Puckett is already making plans to return to Steamboat Springs this summer.
Thanks to his finish in a pair of FIS giant slalom races last weekend on the slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area, he will be staying at the Harbor Hotel free of charge -- just one of the perks for being the top overall finisher in last week's Steamboat Grand Prix alpine race series.
"Casey really cleaned up," race organizer Chris Puckett said. "I think he made $1,800 for the week, which isn't too bad."
Puckett won the final two giant slalom races last Sunday, wrapping up a week of alpine racing in Steamboat. The Grand Prix opened with slalom racing at Howelsen Hill Dec. 30-Jan 1 and then completed the week with the giant slalom events on Mount Werner Jan 4-5.
Puckett edged local racer Tyler Smedsrud in Sunday's final with a combined two-run time of 1 minute, 52.67 seconds. Smedsrud finished second at 1:53.43 and Winter Park's Ian Dunlop came in third with a time of 1:53.46.
Steamboat's Brede Halsnes was fourth and Tony Cesolini came in fifth. Halsnes, who grew up in the area and started racing with the Winter Sports Club, now competes with a private academy in Norway.
He was in town on a holiday break.
Other local names in Sunday's race included Nathan Johansing in eighth, Joel Adams in 10th and Marsh Gooding in 14th.
Puckett also won the men's giant slalom race on Saturday. The four-time Olympian finished the two-run race with a time of 2:05.71, edging local favorite Cesolini, who crossed the finish line with a time of 2:06.60.
Smedsrud was sixth, Johansing was seventh, Halsnes was 11th and Gooding came in 12th.
"It was a great week," alpine coach Chris Puckett said. "We had some great support from our sponsors and all the racers had a really good time."
Chris' brother, Casey, cleaned up on the men's side by putting forth solid showings in the slalom events, and then dominating the final two giant slalom races.
He cashed in on the $500 first prize, some new Fate pants and a couple of nights at the Harbor for his efforts.
Puckett finished the week with 420 points. He was followed in the overall results by Halsnes in second and Cesolini in third. Emily Colin won the women's overall, which came to a close last Friday -- but she elected to pass on the cash to maintain her college eligibility.
Following the Steamboat races, the local women headed to Winter Park for a couple of more FIS races. Steamboat's Heidi Hillenbrand won the first slalom race of the week in Winter Park with a time of 2:21.81. Katie Beardsley of Vail was second at 2:21.86 and Claire Rob came in third at 2:22.13.
But race organizer Chris Puckett said the Steamboat Grand Prix is about a lot more than just the cash prizes -- which act as a carrot to draw top regional racers to Steamboat for the week.
"We want to offer the racers a little something for coming to Steamboat Springs and racing hard," he said. "But by getting the top racers here it means the events are better for everyone."
Puckett said Steamboat's young racers like Cesolini and Smedsrud are good examples of what this race series can do.
Last week, those two racers grabbed top finishes in the races and greatly improved their point standings at the FIS level -- which is the real goal of the local race series.
Chris Puckett said last weekend's events in Steamboat were a success both from the race organizers' perspective and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach's perspective.
The only down note was a couple of scheduling conflicts, which pulled college racers to Montana and many top-level national racers to NorAm races back East.
Casey Puckett said the points were great for the slalom racers earlier in the week but did drop slightly for the giant slalom racers later in the week.