Steamboat Springs Zac Kay headed to the Mount Hood Meadows ski resort in Oregon with few expectations. But when the races came to an end Sunday afternoon, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club snowboarder escaped with a pair of national titles and a fresh perspective on his future.
"It was amazing," Kay said while traveling home Monday. "I guess I didn't expect it. : I'm speechless."
Kay lives in Mount Shasta, Calif., but spends his winters on the road as a member of the U.S. Snowboarding Team and is still a member of the Winter Sports Club. Kay struggled early this season on the World Cup and NorAm tours, but said changes in his equipment had him feeling pretty good headed into the final races of the season in Oregon. His goal going in was to win a national title, but with several red-hot American riders he knew it was going to be a challenge.
"Those guys (Tyler Jewell, Justin Reiter and Chris Klug) have all been riding really well this season. I had a lot of equipment problems," Kay said. "But I got those things worked out toward the end of the season. I still wasn't winning, but I felt like I was riding a lot faster."
Kay and several other members of the U.S. team switched to an Alpine boot manufactured by Dalbello midway through the season. All of the riders have credited the switch in boots for part for their recent success.
"The boards have advanced so quickly, and the boot manufactures haven't been able to keep up," Kay said. "It's been a challenge to find boots that will meet our specifications."
The boots served Kay well in the final races of the season.
On Saturday, Kay raced past former Olympian Klug to win the parallel giant slalom at the NorAm finals. The race also served as the National Championship for Alpine snowboarding.
On Sunday, Kay knocked off Jewell, another former Olympian and Winter Sports Club member, in the parallel slalom to collect his second title.
"They were both tight races," Kay said. "Those guys are my teammates and my friends, but we all want to win."
Michelle Gorgone, another rider with links to Steamboat Springs, collected both U.S. titles on the women's side in last weekend's events. Gorgone won the parallel giant slalom Saturday by knocking off Canadian Alexa Loo in the finals. Gorgone finished second to Loo in Sunday's slalom, but because she was the top American finisher, Gorgone also claimed that title.
"This was a really good showing for all of the riders with ties to Steamboat," said Thedo Remmelink, who coached many of the top Steamboat riders who are now competing on the World Cup and NorAm Tours. Gorgone was with the club before Remmelink arrived.
"Zac was riding really fast at the end of the season," Remmelink said. "He deserved to win the national titles because he was definitely the fastest rider on both days. I think the finishes will motivate him this summer, and I expect him to come back even stronger next year."
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