The snow continues to mount with each weekend, signalling the encroaching high school ski season. Technically, the Wyoming High School Activities Association marked Nov. 27 as the first allowable date for a meet, however, the first Nordic ski meet is not scheduled until Dec. 7, allowing the snow to mount and teams an extra week to prepare.
Last year’s championships split between perennial power Jackson and a burgeoning Laramie team. Jackson swept the boys and girls alpine titles. The Jackson boys have won every alpine title since 2012 and the girls have done the same since 2009. Those two programs have combined for 45 state championships. The Jackson girls dominated the Nordic season as well, but the Laramie boys surged in the classic to upset Jackson.
And while the Broncs may be the favorite to win nearly every ski category based on tradition, there are a lot of talented athletes who could make their impact this season.
This is a pre-season breakdown of what both alpine and Nordic seasons shape up to be.
Jackson will, at the very least, look different than last year’s team. Only senior Garrison Fadala returns to the slopes from last year’s varsity squad (Fadala finished fourth in both slalom and GS at state, putting him third overall). That potentially leaves the door open for Cody and Kelly Walsh to gain ground, although the Trojans will be regrouping.
Junior Dane Rasmussen finished fifth in the GS for Kelly Walsh last year and he’ll likely be a leader for the young Trojans this year. Cody may be more primed for a run, as Matthew Montgomery (sixth in slalom), Jakoby Vipperman (ninth in slalom) and Garrett Gross (12th in slalom, 11th in GS) all are expected to return for their senior seasons. Cody finished a distance second last year in the boys’ standings but that group of skiers, along with fellow senior Thomas Bower and juniors Nathan Whalen and Duncan McLeod, should have the Broncs pushing for more this time around.
Laramie senior Nick Fadial (10th in both) and Pinedale senior Cooper Crockett are other individual standouts.
On the heels of a successful freshman campaign, Jackson sophomore Samantha Gries returns as a threat for gold in both girls’ races. Gries finished third in slalom and sixth in GS at last year’s state meet. Her biggest competition will be junior teammate Dylan Kling, who won the GS by 3.5 seconds last year. Kling did not compete in the slalom at the state meet. Together, they make Jackson a favorite to win a 10th consecutive girls alpine championship.
That doesn’t mean Jackson won’t be challenged. Cody sophomore Nicole Wagler finished fifth in slalom, Natrona County junior Julia Witt took seventh in GS, Kelly Walsh junior Alexis White finished eighth in GS and Kelly Walsh sophomore Jadyn Hardy comes off a 16th-place finish in slalom at state last season.
While the first practices were allowed on Nov. 19 and the first allowable date for meets is Dec. 6, the first scheduled alpine meet stands on the other side of the new year. All six alpine teams begin their season at Laramie’s Snowy Range starting on Jan. 11.
Laramie returns two of its top skiers from the team that dethroned Jackson as both Derk Lyford and Sam Fay will be back for their senior seasons. Lyford took seventh in the classic and 24th in the freestyle while Fay finished eighth in both races at the state meet last season. Nathan Kessler and Connor Frick also return as seniors to add depth to the Plainsmen roster.
And Laramie will need depth if it hopes to repeat against the always-strong Broncs. Jackson junior Elijah Weenig returns as the apparent leader as the Broncs go for an 18th state championship. Weening was a top-three finisher in both freestyle and classic last year on a team of mostly seniors. He’ll be joined by Max Hammond, who returns for his senior season.
Lander remains an outside threat for the state championship. Sophomore Kaleb Simonson, who finished sixth in the freestyle last year, teams with senior Zane Sandall, who finished sixth in the classic to give the Tigers a strong one-two punch. However, they’ll need to develop depth in order to truly contend for the team title.
Natrona County senior Adam Pickett may have the best chance of anyone outside those three teams to win individual gold.
The Jackson girls are the odds-on favorite to win an eighth consecutive team championship. Senior Annabel Hagen, who swept freestyle and classic last year, returns for a senior season alongside classmate Andie Cornish (top 10 in both classic and freestyle) and junior Birch Klomparens (also top 10 in both).
Outside of Jackson, Lander may have the best tandem at the top of its lineup. Senior Molly Fehringer (fifth in freestyle, third in classic) and sophomore Ursula Anderson (top 13 in both) both return this year to give the Tigers a charge at the top.
Natrona County, which finished second in the team standings last year, returns standouts Lu Elder (third in freestyle), Madyson Willis (top seven in both), Brianna Hiser and Kiana Hiser (both top 20).
Then there’s two young skiers who could find themselves in the top 10 at the end of the year, Kelly Walsh sophomore Samantha Veauthier and Pinedale sophomore Aurora Looney.
Kelly Walsh hosts the season-opening Nordic meet on Casper Mountain, Dec. 6-7.