Anchorage skier Kieffer Christianson reached the podium at the U.S. Alpine Championships for the second year in a row, thanks to zip ties and perseverance.
Christianson, 24, capped an otherwise frustrating season by grabbing the bronze medal in the men's giant slalom Tuesday in Sugarloaf, Maine. A year ago, he was the national champion in the same event.
Christianson used a pocket knife and four zip ties to repair his race suit after the zipper broke a minute or two before he was scheduled to make his first run at Sugarloaf Mountain.
"My suit was wide open," he said. "They gave me a couple of minutes and some guys helped me."
They used the pocket knife to punch little holes in the suit and zip ties to close it. "Luckily I had another suit for the second run," Christianson said.
Christianson was in fifth place after the first run and moved up to third place in the second run.
The gold medal went to 26-year-old Hig Roberts of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, with a two-run time of 2 minutes, 19.25 seconds. Seven-time national champion Tim Jitloff, 32, of Reno, Nevada, was .14 seconds back in second place and Christianson was .29 back in 2:19.54.
Christianson celebrated his medal finish by driving four hours to Hanover, New Hampshire, where he is a senior at Dartmouth College. He'll head to classes Wednesday, two days after the spring term began.
"I'll pop in tomorrow and try to catch up," he said.
This is Christianson's seventh spring term at Dartmouth, because he often takes the fall and winter terms off to pursue his ski racing career.
He was a member of the U.S. Ski Team for a handful of years, but he didn't make the national team this year — despite his status as the giant slalom national champion — so he skied independently. He found his own coach, made his own travel arrangements and pursued sponsorships from several Alaska business to make this season happen.
"There were a lot of good things about being on my own, and also a lot of frustrating stuff," Christianson said. "It was more work, but it was fulfilling and gratifying."
He got off to a great start in the season-opening Nor-Am race series in Panorama, British Columbia, where he reached the podium three times in seven races.
But at a Nor-Am race series a couple of weeks later, Christianson began having concussion symptoms that limited his training and racing for the rest of the season.
"I've had a history of concussions over my career, so I've had some problems with that," he said. "I wasn't having bad symptoms, but they were bad in that I was getting the symptoms very easily. Skiing at 70 mph and putting your head through gates, there's a lot of forces there. I wasn't crashing, but I was like, 'Oh man, I'm not feeling totally all right.' ''
He decided to focus on the giant slalom, so he scaled back on slalom and super-G racing. At the national championships in Sugarloaf, the GS was the only race he entered.
Despite the zipper malfunction, some heavy fog and a feeling that he wasn't skiing his best, Christianson was in good position after Tuesday's first run — seven-tenths of a second out of first place; two-tenths of a second out of second place.
He went free-skiing between runs in an effort to work out some kinks.
"I didn't feel totally synched up with my skiing. It wasn't my best, but mentally I was really focused and I fought really hard," he said. "That made up for the fact my skiing wasn't totally where I wanted it to be."...Read more