George Beck of Aspen was scheduled to compete in the sprint ski mountaineering event of the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland today around 3 a.m. Aspen time.
It’s the second of three races that the 17-year-old Aspen High School junior will ski during the YOC, which are being contested in the mountains near Lausanne. Tuesday is the skimo mixed team relay, Beck’s final event.
The games draw a cross-section of winter athletes, including in the sports of skating, snowboarding and alpine, freestyle and Nordic skiing. Halfpipe skier Hanna Faulhaber of Missouri Heights also is competing in the YOC, beginning Jan. 20 with pipe qualifications. Faulhaber, 15, is a member of the U.S. Ski Team’s rookie halfpipe team.
George Beck’s first race on Friday in Villars Winter Park ended with a 12th place and a performance with which the skimo athlete was pleased, he said Sunday.
There were 48 racers in the men’s and women’s individual skimo race, won by Thomas Bussard and Caroline Ulrich, both of Switzerland. Today’s skimo sprint is a shortened version with a similar course but only one climb and descent. Friday’s race had four climbs and descents and ran about one hour.
The individual skimo events begin with a mass start and demand a mix of uphill and downhill racing that challenges one’s skiing and climbing skills and endurance.
Skimo was added to the YOC roster by the International Olympic Committee in July 2017; this was the first time it was contested at this level. The YOC, started in 2012 and staged every four years, is open to athletes aged 14-18 years.
Skimo will become a test event during the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy.
Sprint, then team race
Beck said in a text interview Sunday that the European contingent was very strong and he will use experience from Friday’s race in the subsequent events.
“I will put in my best effort and see where I end up,” he said.
“The biggest learning experience from Friday is the knowledge of the competition. The vast majority of competitive skimo racing takes place in Europe so I rarely compete with most of them,” Beck said.
Team USA’s skimo teammates are Jeremiah Valle of Dillon, Grace Staberg of Silverthorne (who was seventh Friday) and Utah athlete Samantha Paisley. They’ll ski together in Tuesday’s relay.
Another YOC 2020 athlete with Aspen ties is former Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club snowboarder Jake Canter, who now lives in Silverthorne and is a member of the national team.
‘Very large’ love of skiing
A North Carolina native, Beck moved to Aspen at the age of 2 and had a well-rounded ski background before taking up mountaineering.
“I did Nordic from a really young age and I also loved to alpine ski,” he said of the complementary skills that skimo demands.
“My love for skiing in general was very large, so when my mom started doing skimo, I thought it was very cool because she could ski when the lifts weren’t running,” Beck said.
“When I got my own skimo set-up, I was able to ski before school with my parents, which was amazing,” he said.
Beck’s opening race on the Villars Winter Park course took just under one hour and featured those aforementioned four climbs and descents.
“Two of the climbs had sections that required us to take our skis off and run a short distance,” Beck said.
No longer coached by AVSC — spokeswoman Katie Hauser confirmed Friday that Beck is not currently enrolled in AVSC — he spent many years in the Nordic program, she said.
Beck has no shortage of local sport influencers and mentors and honed some of his skills in the Aspen Skiing Co. Power of Four races in Highland Bowl, he said.
Locally, Beck works with mountain bike coach Scott Leonard on fitness as well as members of Aspen’s “very large and welcoming skimo community.” That includes John Gaston, Max Team and Sean Van Horn. “They are able to provide priceless advice and company,” Beck said.
His national team coach who is working with the athletes in Switzerland is Joe Howdyshell. Also on site helping with equipment preparation is Kerry Hanes. In addition, the president of the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association, Ram Mikluas, is in Villars-sur-Ollon, Beck said.