Cory McConnell has to ski on powder days. It's part of his training to adapt to all conditions, so Wednesday was a very good day for the Alpine ski racer.
Actually, the entire 2004-05 competitive season has been a successful one for the 16-year-old racer from Steamboat Springs. During the weekend, McConnell wrapped up the SmartWool Series with an overall title, winning a "Gold Card," which gives him free lift tickets to all Colorado ski areas for the next season.
Needless to say, it's better than a trophy.
"It's the difference between night and day," McConnell said. "You spend quite a bit on lift tickets. It will definitely help out big."
McConnell's results shouldn't come as a surprise, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach Tom Davis said.
"He's been skiing well for a long time," Davis said. "We were waiting for him to get at our level. It's pretty apparent he had the talent to go the distance, so it's good to see him on track with the goals he set at the beginning of the season."
At the Telluride SmartWool Finals, McConnell picked up wins in the giant slalom March 23 and a win in the slalom Friday. The SmartWool Race Series is a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association-sanctioned series with racers earning points toward a national ranking and a qualification for nationals.
"It definitely makes you want to ski that much more," McConnell said about winning the overall title. "It does encourage you to try that much harder."
But McConnell wasn't the only Winter Sports Club skier who finished among the top three overall this season. Lauren Letson and Suzanne Allbright, also J-2 level skiers, were second and third, respectively, behind Lauren Brien of the Summit County-based Quantum Sports Club. Brien is several years older than Letson, Davis said.
"I'm definitely pleased," Letson, 15, said. "It was really exciting and surprising. I had a breakthrough more toward the end of the year. I won the Beaver Creek SmartWool Series, and things started to come together. I'm definitely pumped about next year."
Allbright finished fourth in two giant slalom races in Telluride and was second in the slalom. Letson was seventh and ninth in her giant slalom races and fourth in the slalom in Telluride.
"Lauren (Letson) has been close to, if not standing on, the podium in every race," Davis said. "She's been the most consistent and was rewarded by a second-place finish. Lauren went (to Telluride) to try and win the overall and did the best she could. She came real close. Suzanne Allbright had some great racers there, too. It was a noteworthy performance for her."
The SmartWool Race Series is open to racers age 13 and older, so McConnell, Letson and Allbright, J-2 skiers, are several years younger than the oldest competitors, which speaks volumes about their ability.
In addition, the Winter Sports Club involved some of its younger J-3 racers in the SmartWool Series with positive results. In Telluride, Jimmy Hostetler and Max Marno started in 84th and 77th, respectively, in the giant slalom. Hostetler moved up to 10th, and Marno was 16th on March 24.
Taylor Coe had three top 10 finishes, and Ryan Coe had a ninth-place finish in the giant slalom March 23 in Telluride. Nelson Kane started 75th and finished 18th in the slalom Friday.
"I just think (that) them finding that success at this level, at that age, is a good thing for the future of our program," Davis said. "A lot of those kids will be J-2s next year, so it's great that they are already competitive at that age level."