The Junior Athletes Of The Year

Meet the Vermonters you want to keep an eye on: the all-stars under 21.

This year, Vermont Sports dedicates our 10 Athletes of the Year to those under 21. These are not just “up and comers.” In many cases, these athletes are already close to the top of their game and beating some of the best in the world. Keep an eye on them and watch for our Olympic preview – showcasing Vermonters who are likely to compete in the Pyeong Chang Olympics— in our next issue.

Caroline Claire, 17, Slopestyle

When she was in eighth grade, Wilmington’s Caroline Claire had a chance to meet her idol, Devin caroline_6q2a6662Logan, who came to Mount Snow where Claire was training. “Devin came up to me and said ‘I know who you are,’ and showed me her medal—I never thought she would know who I was,” Claire remembers.

In the next few months, Claire will be competing for a chance to join Logan as one of the four women on the U.S. Ski Team to compete in the Olympic Slopestyle event in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Claire stands a good chance. The  Stratton Mountain School senior has been pretty much unstoppable the last few years. A member of U.S. Freeskiing’s The North Face Rookie slopestyle team, in 2017 she earned her first World Cup podium—a bronze in Seiser Alm, Italy— and four Toyota U.S. Revolution Tour podium appearances, including three wins. In March, she capped off a stellar season by winning a bronze at the FIS Freestyle Ski Junior World Championships in Valmalenco, Italy.

“I was just excited to be at my second World Cup, and then to make the finals,” Claire said about the Valmalenco event.  “I landed a trick I never thought I could do off this huge 70-foot jump—it was the run of my life!” she says. Claire, who also is a leading scorer on her soccer team, wants to keep competing, but she’s also applying now to Dartmouth and University of Vermont, so the there’s a good chance we’ll keep seeing her on Vermont’s slopes for a while.

Mac Forehand, 16, Big Air

“Mac Forehand isn’t just one of the best junior freeskiers in the country, he’s one of the best mac_6q2a3856freeskiers period,” says Stratton Mountain School coach Jesse Mallis. Mallis should know. A former coach at Mount Snow, Mallis has worked with such stars as Olympic medalist and World Cup winner Devin Logan and now coaches both Forehand and Caroline Claire, the Stratton Mountain School skiers who were named to the U.S. Junior Freeskiing Team in 2017.

Forehand grew up skiing at Stratton and started at Stratton Mountain School at 14. “I built a base of alpine racing and mogul skiing before moving into freeskiing,” he says. He’s currently ranked among the top 22 in the world in Big Air (tricks off huge jumps) and among the top five in the U.S. In 2017, he was named to the U.S. Junior Team and earned a spot at the Worlds in Italy but was sidelined just weeks before the competition with a broken collarbone.

So far, the highlight of 2017 for Forehand was winning the Aspen Open Big Air Competition. The event, held on the X Games venue, was open to both pros and amateurs. Forehand finished ahead of Japan’s Yuuki Satou and took home the $2000 first place prize. He now skis for Faction skis.

Forehand’s next competition will be the FIS World Cup Big Air in Milan in mid-November. In October, when we reached him, Forehand was just back from training in Switzerland, his first time in Europe. “I’ve been working on a switch, double cork 1440 – that’s going off backwards, doing two flips, and four full rotations while grabbing your skis.” At Milan, he hopes to up that to do a triple cork 1440 or 1620 (adding another flip and another half rotation) airing across a 70- to 80-foot span. After that, the sky’s the limit.    

Ian Clarke, 19, Ski Mountaineer

Ski mountaineering, a race that takes skiers up, down and across all terrain, is a relatively new  sport—aiming for Olympic inclusion in 2022—and growing. And growing right with it is University of Vermont junior Ian Clarke.

Clarke, who grew up near Killington and raced alpine at Killington Mountain School, didn’t pick up img_4349ski mountaineering (ski mo) until last year. Since then, he’s placed in just about every event around New England. In February, 2017, Clarke was the only junior named to the U.S. national team and invited to compete at the World Championships in Italy in March. He finished 23rd there against some of the top Europeans.

More than just a competitor, Clarke has been a booster for the sport. He organized the first SkiMo and Mountaineering Club at  UVM and has been working with the Catamount Trail Association and other groups to get others involved in the sport.

While the alpine background has helped Clarke on the downhills, his experience as a road cylcist has built up endurace for the uphill portions of the race.

This past summer, racing Cat 2, Clarke earned a second, third and fourth in three stages of the Green Mountain Stage Race. And when he’s not on his bike, he’s a commercial glider pilot and instructor at Sugarbush Soaring in Warren.

Hans Huber, 14, All-Mountain Rider

At age 10, Hans Huber already had footage (with music) airing on Teton Gravity Research. Since then, Huber has been pretty much owning the podium for his age group in a variety of disciplines at the USASA Nationals at Copper Mountain each year and has earned sponsorship from Burton and A Line. This year, for the second year in a row, the seventh-grader at the Stowe Middle School took home top overall honors in the 14- to 15-year-old division, having earned points in nearly every discipline, from halfpipe to slopestyle to boardercross to racing—an “all-mountain” rider.

Huber excels at racing (he won slalom) and boardercross (he finished 8th out of 157), but he’s focusing now on improving his slopestyle and big air. “Progression is a goal and while I’m not the greatest at everything, I can do all discliplines pretty well.”

Huber has been practicing in the backcountry at Loveland Pass. “I’m working on a double back flip – perhaps the hardest thing is committing to those double back flips. You just have to go with the mindset that you are going to land it.”

That’s a mindset Huber has been using since he was 3. Born with Type 1 diabetes, he’s never let that slow him down and he won his first halfpipe event at age 6. He’s also a lacrosse, flag football and soccer player. “What I’m most proud of is how he manages everything in his life,” says his mother, Sandy Huber.

Ty Walker, 20, Big Air

It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since we watched Ty Walker, one of the youngest Olympians in Sochi, flying high to earn 14th in the Olympic snowboard slopestyle competion. She was just 16

Snowboard Slopestyle finals 2016 U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix at Mammoth Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Snowboarding

then and living in Stowe. Now, she’s 20 and balancing being a pre-med student at Brown University while aiming for a spot at PyeongChang in a new event—big air.

Walker has already been named to the U.S Team and this past fall, she was the first athlete in any sport to also be named a Young Change Maker by the U.S. Olympic Team. As such, she’ll represent the U.S. Olympic Committee throughout the year and at the  Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2018.

Since the last Olympics, Walker has faced some injuries, including a torn ACL that kept her out of competitions but not before winning a World Cup Big Air in Istanbul. In 2016, while training for the Big Air Fenway, she crashed and fractured a vertebrae in her back. This past year Walker’s taken a leave from Brown to focus on her training and to keep up her nutrition blog, Excellence in the Kitchen, where she’s been interviewing Olympic athletes about their nutrition tips and recipes.

And she still rides Stowe – for fun. As she told VT Ski + Ride magazine, “Stowe, specifically, is where I go. I’ll go up to the mountain with my family and friends and explore the mountain. There, I’m not a professional athlete anymore, just another person who loves snowboarding.”

Grace Weinberg, 19, Luge

Another Olympic hopeful to watch, if not for 2018, perhaps for 2022, is Pittsfield’s Grace Weinberg. Since appearing on the cover of Vermont Sports last year, Grace “G-Force” Weinberg has been training hard in Lake Placid, learning how to finesse a sled that under her guidance has hit 82 miles an hour on sheer ice.

That training paid off in September when Weinberg finished second in USA Luge’s annual indoor gracestartstart championships, behind Olympic bronze medalist Summer Britcher and beating third-place finisher and reigning world women’s sprint champion Erin Hamlin.

Weinberg has a powerful start, which in luge can mean everything. She grew up in Pittsfield training with her dad Andy Weinberg, former Spartan Death Race director and founder of The Endurance Society. She got into luge at age 11, during a “slider search” and has been hooked ever since. “It was a pretty big advantage for me because when you’re young and your body hasn’t developed, it’s easier to learn because you can grow into the sled. It’s an experience-based sport, so the more experience you have the better,” she said in an interview with Vermont Sports last year. That experience earned her silver in the Junior World Championships Relay in 2016.

Aidan Casner, 18, Downhill MTB Racer

Aidan Casner was just 17 when he stood at the top of his first World Cup downhill race in Lourdes, France, in April 2016. More than 245 riders from 27 countries had come to the tiny town in the Pyrenees to watch the race: a 1,447-foot descent down two miles of course — what pro rider Marcelo Gutierrez called “the gnarliest track of the year.”  The average speed:  36 kilometers an hour. While Casner didn’t qualify for a final run, it was a start.

aidan-andorra-wc-1Now 18, Casner just completed his second season on the World Cup circuit, racing downhill courses from Switzerland to Quebec. This past September, he was one of four Vermonters to be invited to compete on the U.S Team at the UCI Mountain Bike Worlds in Australia.

That’s not bad for a kid who grew up riding the trails near his home in Montpelier and doing lift-served downhills at Sugarbush and Killington. “My first mountain bike downhill I was 9, riding a rented bike and it was the best day of my life,” Casner, now a freshman at Western Washington University, recalls. “My first race was at Killington at age 10 and I was terrified and probably fell 10 times.”   

That didn’t stop in him. In 2017, Casner finished 16th overall (and was the second American) in an international field of the best juniors in the world at the UCI World Cup in Mont Sainte Anne, Quebec.  He went on to finish fifth in his age group in the Nationals in Snowshoe, West Virginia in July.  After being invited to race in the UCI World Championships in the jungles of northern Australia, he finished 26th.      

A member of the Mad River Glen Freeskiing Team, Casner credits riding in Vermont and having to pick tight lines through the trees as one of the reasons for his success. But that’s only part of it.    “There are a ton of really good riders in Vermont and they let me ride with them,” he says.  “Riding with better people pushed me to get better. I always looked up to guys like Alex McAndrews, Dylan Conte and Andrew Allaire. One of the biggest things that helped me get better was just riding with guys outside of the race environment, not taking it super seriously and remembering that you do it for fun.”

Mazie Hayden, MTB and Ski Cross Champ

Pittsfield native Mazie Hayden had no idea she was even being considered to be part of the U.S. Team when she was invited to the UCI Mountain Bike World’s in Australia, this past September. “I’d only done one UCI World Cup, the one in Mont St. Anne, Quebec, in August,” the Killington Mountain School senior said. She finished second there. That result, combined with a steady stream of podium finshes in the Pro Cat 1 categories in four Vittoria Eastern States Cup events and a fifth overall (not just in her age group, while competing against pros) at the U.S. Nationals in West Virginia, secured Hayden the invite.

Which was fortunate, because she just happened to be planning to go to Australia in September mazie-msa-wc-1anyway.

Downhill mountain biking is Hayden’s second sport. Hayden’s first sport, ski cross, was what took her Down Under to train this fall. Hayden started out her ski cross (an event that sets four competitors out on a course at once, with jumps, waves and steep turns all thrown in) season with a bang, finishing in the top eight at the Toyota Grand Prix Nor Am Cup in Solitude, Utah. Her results were consistent going up all season, with an 11th in the Junior World Championships in Italy in March and then two third-place finishes in the Australia/New Zealand Cup in Australia this past fall.  She also took sixth in the Canadian Nationals.

Hayden grew up skiing and mountain biking around Killington, where her father works. She earned her first USASA national championship title in 2012 at just 11 years of age, and has won every USASA National title since.

As for doing competing in two sports at the international level, Hayden acknowledges it can be a challenge for scheduling her races and training. But, as she says, “I have so much fun biking and I really enjoy competing in ski cross. There are lots of the movements you do for both, like ‘popping.’ And the most important thing is the mental preparation for each race and that carries over for both seasons and overcoming the fear,” she says, adding. “That said, it’s better to fall on snow.”

Gaelen Kilburn, 17, Cyclist

Cyclists who are good at one discipline— say road riding—are often quick to pick up another, such as cyclocross or mountain biking. But it may take a while. Galen Kilburn, excels at all three. “I started mountain biking at the Catamount Outdoor Center when I was 5 years old on a single speed with 20-inch wheels,” says the Burlington High School sophomore. Since then, he’s been religious about attending the Wednesday night rides, which he credits with building up his skills.gmsr-crit-2017

That work paid off. In 2017 Kilburn took second in the Junior Division at the Mountain Bike Nationals in West Virginian and also second at the Canada Cup in Mont Tremblant, Ottawa. He was invited to be part of the U.S Team at the UCI World Championships in Australia in September but declined, in part, because he had already committed to riding in the Green Mountain Stage Race, the road race,  in Vermont.

As much a road cyclist now as he is a mountain biker, Kilburn was recruited to be one of 10 members of the elite Hot Tubes development team after a coach watched him take second at the the 2016 Cyclocross Nationals in the Juniors, 15-16 age group.

In 2017, Kilburn focused on road riding and earned fifth in the road race of the Junior Cycling Nationals, two third places in the Green Mountain Stage Race, and a second in the Overland Grand Prix.     

“I really love that race because it has a little bit of everything,” Kilburn says. It also allowed him to race neck-and-neck with his heros. “It was pretty cool to be the final breakaway group with Mike Barton, Kevin Bouchard-Hall and Tim Johnson,” says Kilburn – all former pros with Johnson being a former bronze medalist at the Cyclocross Worlds. Kilburn beat Johnson and Bouchard-Hall to finish second.

But the race he is most proud of is the 2017 Tour of Ireland. Racing against more than 100 top juniors from all over Europe and as far away as South Africa, Kilburn earned second. “It’s made me want to go back and do some more races in Europe next year,” he says.

Michael Davis, 15, Marksman

This November, 15-year-old Michael Davis of Vergennes heads for the hills to hunt, and hopefully win a deer for the first time. He’s been shooting since he was five years old, primarily shooting geese with his father, Timothy Davis, a champion National Guard marksman who helped the Vermont team win a national title about 30 years ago. Odds say Michael won’t come home empty-handed.shootingkid0012

This past September, Michael headed to Virginia to compete in the NRA Shooting World Championships and took gold, earning $1,000 and the title of NRA World Champion.

Not only did he best a dozen other juniors in a 12-stage, multi-discipline contest designed to test all-around shooting ability, but Davis also finished 63rd overall in a field of 325 that included sponsored professionals and active military and law enforcement experts. Davis also took fourth overall in one event.

Davis, who has been shooting competitively for at least seven years, described the NRA championships as a unique challenge. “This world championship is every major type of shooting combined in one competition,” Davis said. “This is the only competition that does this. You do not shoot your own guns, which is a big challenge, because you don’t know how they shoot. It’s a level playing field.”

And it’s also an event that Davis acknowledges is virtually tailor-made for him: “A lot of shooters only focus on one or two kinds of shooting, and not many do everything,” Davis said. “I am one of the very few shooters that shoot most different disciplines.”

Davis, an aspiring police officer, hopes to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. “I want to shoot skeet or biathlon,” Davis said.  —Lisa Lynn and Andy Kirkaldy

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