Fraser snowboarder wins national alpine championship title
Sky-Hi Daily News
Cindy Kleh of Fraser recaptured her alpine championship title during the 2008 United States of America Snowboarding Association (USASA) 2008 National Championships held at Copper Mountain Resort last week.
Kleh won first place in both the giant slalom and slalom for the women’s 40-49 age group, taking the overall women’s alpine title during the national championships for the fourth straight year while taking her first overall title for all five events: Superpipe, Slopestyle, Boardercross, GS and Slalom.
This year’s USASA National Championships saw 1,600 snowboarders from across the nation competing from March 28 through April 4 in their quest to become National Champions.
Kleh went to Copper Mountain with the goal of regaining the slalom national title she lost last year when the nationals were held in Northstar, Lake Tahoe, Calif., while competing in freestyle events for the first time.
“I was the overall national champion for three of the last four years,” she said. “At last year’s nationals, I fell in the slalom, but still got the bronze.”
What helped her recapture the title, Kleh admitted, is that she had spent a lot of time training at Copper Mountain.
“I had the home court advantage because I do a lot of training and racing there, so I knew the courses pretty well.” Kleh said. “I was also coached by Sean McCarron, the head alpine snowboarding coach at Copper.
Going into this year’s nationals, Kleh knew she would be facing tough challenges not only from Kelly Reuss of Reno, Nev., a longtime friend who won the overall title last year, but also from fellow Grand County snowboarder, Karla Whitacre of Hot Sulphur Springs.
“Karla really got into competition last year and has been training every weekend with Sean,” she said. “I was worried because she had beaten me by .09 seconds in a GS race earlier this season and she was coming on strong for the nationals.”
Her concern about Whitacre was borne out in the first race of the slalom, which was the initial alpine competition of this year’s nationals.
“Karla beat me by less than one second in the first run,” Kleh said. “In the second run, I was late on one gate and lost some time on the course, so I thought she was going to win, but I was surprised to find out I’d beaten her by about a half second in combined times. I got the gold and she took the silver.”
The next day’s competition was the giant slalom. Kleh admitted she was so nervous that she lost sleep the night before and then had to contend with adverse conditions on the race course.
“It started snowing and turned into a whiteout with the snow piling up on the course,” she said. “But after two runs, I was the winner, beating everybody else by a combined time of almost five seconds. Karla took third.”
After one inspection run down the boardercross course, Kleh was seriously thinking of skipping the next day’s boardercross competition because of its huge gap jumps, table tops and drop-offs.
“I wasn’t going to do it because I didn’t want to risk an injury,” she said. “But the morning of the competition, Kelly called me from the start to say they had mellowed the course overnight and to give it a try, so I grabbed all my pads and got there just in time. As I was going down the final heat, I lost a contact out of my left eye, so I finished it half blind with it stuck inside my goggle. I took fourth.”
Kleh’s anxieties were not alleviated because the next day’s competition was slopestyle, an event she was going to try for the second time.
“I was so nervous before the start that I couldn’t talk,” she said. “The jumps were huge. Kelly tried to calm me down by telling me I only had to clear the length of a pickup truck or two.”
Her concerns about slopestyle, which is a combination of jumps and rails, proved unfounded because she succeeded in taking the runner-up spot behind Reuss.
“It turned out that rails and me are compatible,” Kleh said. “Winter Park Resort had given me some help by letting Brooke Lester, an instructor at the resort, work with me for a half day. After that slopestyle event, I had no more fears.”
After a day off from competition, including a “pool party” with some of her fellow competitors, at the Hot Sulphur Springs Resort, Kleh returned to Copper Mountain for the Superpipe, which would be her final national’s event.
“In the first run, I nailed it,” she said. “But on the second run, I wiped out. I now realize the importance of using a mouth and wrist guards as well as padded pants. Kelly took the gold.”
Kleh took first place in the alpine competition’s overall results and second overall in the national’s freestyle competition. In addition, she took first overall in all four events, and first overall in triple events of freestyle, boardercross and alpine.
Her victories last week raised her national’s gold medal count since she began competing in 2000 to a total of nine. With her success at this year’s USASA National Championships, Kleh is already looking ahead to next season.
“I plan to keep doing the all-around because I discovered that I really love halfpipe and rails,” she said. “I think doing freestyle added to my alpine and the alpine added to the freestyle.
Kleh wants to thank all of her sponsors this season, including the Winter Park Athletic Club, which helped her rehabilitation from knee, elbow and shoulder injuries this past year. She also wants to thank Hot Sulphur Springs Resort for the “free healing soaks,” Le Ski Lab for “boot insoles that rock,” The Dillon Dam Brewery in Dillon for lodging while competing in Summit County, and Extreme Balance Boards of Alberta, Canada.
“I especially want to thank Winter Park Resort for the unbelievably superb coaching they’ve given me in freestyle and alpine,” she said.
In other results at last week’s nationals, another Grand County snowboarder also did very well. Daria Tikhonova of Hot Sulphur Springs placed fourth in the GS for 12 to 13-year-old girls. She was competing in a field of 37 competitors.
Copper Mountain Resort will host the 2009 Nationals again next April; then the event travels to Loon Mountain, N.H., in 2010. For more information, visit usasa.org.
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