The skiing Karels family of Isanti put on some fun miles this winter when daughter Haley entered the Junior Olympics program and qualified for the big meet in Winterpark, Colo. The 13 year-old whiz on boards held her own out west, showing that a “flatlander” can handle the big slopes just fine.
Throughout the winter, Karels skis on the Wild Mountain club team and practiced with US Ski & Snowboard Association (USSA), competing at meets around the state. She was old enough to race in the Junior Olympic program, so in February the family traveled to Marquette in the UP of Michigan for the Central U.S. qualifier.
“When we got there, everybody was set up with waxing tables, and it was really, really serious– and it was really stressful,” said Haley. “My first run, I had to run Super G for practice. There were two huge jumps in it, and you’re flying. I never ran Super G before, so it was really, really scary. We were getting clocked at 50 to 60 mph coming down that one. The next day was the same course which counted. It was a little straighter so you got more air on the jumps.”
Haley ended up placing 55th among the 76 U14 girls on that race. She followed with a 34th in the kombi, 24th & 25th placings in the giant slalom, then she posted placings of 16th, 18th and 25th in the slalom. Her overall percentage for the competition was more than good enough to make the cut to Winterpark. The UP mountains took their toll with two girls breaking arms on the runs, including one that was skiing just before Haley’s turn.
“They took 40-some girls, and Haley was 21st in that group,” said father, Tom. “Two other Minnesota girls qualified for Winterpark off the TR2 Three Rivers team– one from Rochester and one from Eden Prairie. Other Minnesota clubs were represented, too.”
The JO finals
The JO finals at Winterpark were held the week of March 17, bringing in skiiers from around the U.S.
“It was really cute. They did an opening ceremony just like the Olympics; they had a torch leading out. The girls marched out as a team, with Haley being on the TR2 Three Rivers Race team,” described mother, Kari.
Since she was missing so much school, Haley was allowed to write an independent project for one of her classes. In the opening, she describes that first morning waking up in the mountains: “I was drinking orange juice and looking out the window which provided a perfect view of the hill I was going to be racing on…thinking about the day ahead of me. I knew that the competition that day was going to be tight and that everyone wanted to do well. In other words, everyone had their biggest game faces on, considering it was the biggest race and this was our first accounted-for run.”
The meet was set up on multiple runs at Winterpark, with races spread out over the week.
“The runs in Colorado were definitely steeper than Marquette. The Super G at Winterpark was very, very long. We were clocking in around 1:06, and you were just aching when you got to the bottom,” described Haley. “Plus there were a lot of whiteout days where you could barely see at times. There was so much snow out there.
“For giant slalom, it was run on the steepest part of the resort– another black diamond. It was pretty scary. The first seven or eight girls disqualified because they just went for it too fast.”
Colorado girls can go to ski academies for school, where they ski during the day and take classes at night. And they get that fresh powder all season, as opposed to the man-made icy snow that most seasons blanket the Minnesota courses.
“Our team was laughing about the idea that the Rocky kids can outdo us on the Super G, but wait until slalom because we can do ice,” said Haley. “Those girls are really, really good out there– like they are the best of the best.”
“The slalom was her best event out there,” said Kari. “She placed 15th among the Central U.S. girls and 40th overall out of 108 girls. So Marquette was more stressful because everyone’s concerned about qualifying. I think a lot of the girls saw Winterpark as a bonus to the season, and it was so much more relaxed and fun.”
Haley added a 92nd in the Super G, and 58th & 60th placings in the giant slalom. The only downer of the trip was her getting knocked out of the kombi race day by a fever and cough, but she rallied to race on the final day of the event.
She can race JO for two more years, and if she keeps skiing she can move up to the harder FIS (Federation of International Skiing). Her younger sister, Cierra, will be old enough for JO skiiing next year, too, after enjoying her own successful club season this winter.
During the summer, the Karels are big into water skiiing. Haley earned a spot on a Midwest junior elite team and will travel to Florida for training in early June.