Local ski champs show off our area

We all know our part of the world is a good one for teaching kids how to ski. Yes, so are plenty of other places in North America, but this winter, Adirondack-bred skiers outdid themselves in competing on the big stage. They had a huge season for them, and we congratulate them.

We don’t need to elaborate any more about Andrew Weibrecht and his silver medal in Sochi, nor about our homegrown Olympians in biathlon, ski jumping and nordic combined. They were the most prominent ambassadors for Adirondack ski culture, but we’re talking now about four young women who may be future Olympians.

That’s a bold statement because all kinds of things could happen in the next few years, but lately they’ve been making great progress toward that goal. Each was recently crowned, in one sense or another, as the best in her discipline.

Cecily Decker lives in Saranac Lake and skis for the New York Ski Education Foundation based at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in Wilmington. At the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s Junior national championships in late March and early April, she took first place in the giant slalom – and then went on to win the overall under-16 title. In other words, this 15-year-old is the undisputed U.S. champion skier this year in her age group.

Her teammate Beatrix Lever has skied for NYSEF since she was 7. She mostly lives and goes to high school in Montreal, but she and her family spends much of the winter at their second home in Wilmington. Earlier this month she was named the top Canadian female skier under 16 at the Whistler Cup in British Columbia. She received the Nancy Green Award after getting three top-10 finishes at the premier junior competition that drew top talent from more than 20 nations.

So it’s fair to say Whiteface is home to the best female alpine skiers under 16 in both the U.S. and Canada this year.

Locals also did amazingly well in nordic ski disciplines.

Lake Placid native ski jumper Nina Lussi, who recently turned 20, was the overall Continental Cup champion this season. The Continental Cup is a step down from the top-tier World Cup, and Ms. Lussi was the best in the world at that level. She didn’t make the U.S. Olympic team this time around, but it was still a big year for her – and for women’s ski jumping, which made its Olympic debut in February after being unfairly denied in the past.

Nordic combined is a mix of ski jumping and cross-country skiing, the sport Vermontville native Billy Demong won gold and silver medals in at the 2010 Olympics. It’s the last Winter Olympic sport that’s exclusively for men, but if that ever changes – and it should – Gabby Armstrong may be a contender. On Feb. 23, which happened to be the last day of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the 15-year-old Lake Placid High School freshman earned a gold medal of her own at the 2014 Junior National Championships in Anchorage, Alaska. She claimed the women’s under-17 title in the 5-kilometer individual event.

Also at that Alaska event representing the eastern region of the U.S., NYSEF and LPHS were Karl Schulz (who placed sixth) Miles Lussi (Nina’s younger brother, who placed 11th) and Landon Livreri (17th).

In straight nordic skiing, the field is even more competitive, and one local teenager tore it up this winter. She’s another Nina from Lake Placid, Gabby Armstrong’s older sister, LPHS junior Nina Armstrong. She placed second in the state nordic ski championships, in both classic and skate styles.

Three other locals combined for five more top-20 finishes at states. On the boys side, Lake Placid eighth-grader Scottie Schulz took sixth place in the skate and seventh in the classic, and Saranac Lake sophomore Bryce Hartmann took eighth in the skate and 19th in the classic. Among the girls, Saranac Lake sophomore Jackie Garso finished 16th in the skate race.

“It’s the best that I’ve seen in the eight years I’ve been coaching, girls and boys,” Lake Placid coach Bill Frazer said. “Back in the day, if we put someone in the top 20, we were (excited).”

Our local Olympians, as they returned here for post-games parades in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, spoke repeatedly of the generous amount of support they receive from these communities – from people who know and appreciate what they do and cheer them on heartily. We expect that support will be important to our starry-eyed youngsters, too. It’s a long, hard road to the Olympics, but we’re cheering them on all the way.