By Evan Johnson
At last year’s World Cup race at Killington, before the top ski racers plunged down Superstar, a crowd of some 15,000 in the base area on both days of racing cheered for three young Vermonters from the Killington Mountain School, who ran the course before any of the other international racers, a prestigious honor for an aspiring ski racer, albeit one that inspires a fair amount of jittery nerves.
“I was extremely nervous about skiing down the course in front of that many people and before all of these incredible World Cup women,” said Rebecca Clark, age 17 of Mendon, who was one of the forerunners for the Giant Slalom race on Saturday.
While this would be the biggest event of her career so far, Clark said she chose to approach her debut on the Superstar course as she would with any other race, with focus and dedication in her training. The day before the World Cup, Clark and her fellow forerunners practiced alongside the other athletes on the practice slope that had been set up on neighboring Skyelark trail.
“It was important for me to think about it as any other race and not make it such a big deal in my mind so I could perform well,” she said.
While the forerunners had long looked up to these athletes, they were instructed not to request photos or autographs. At the top near the starting line, the forerunners got to see the pre-race warmup routines of some of the best athletes in the world.
“They’re all incredible skiers and incredible athletes,” Clark said. “On TV they look seven-feet tall with tree trunks for legs, but standing next to them I could see they were regular people, too. Lara Gut is only 5’2.”
Like so many other die-hard East Coast skiers, Clark is familiar with the daunting black diamond that is Killington’s Superstar, but this was the first time she’d raced a Giant Slalom course on it. In the weeks after learning she’d be one of the forerunners, Superstar seemed to loom steeper and taller every time she looked at it. When she went up to help slip the course, she remembered it was her old favorite.
However, unlike the hundreds of other times she’s skied it, she had an audience of some 15,000 fans screaming at the bottom for her.
“Coming across the finish line was insane,” she said. “The energy that was in the crowd was nothing I’d ever experienced.”
Clark is currently in the post-graduate program at KMS before entering Middlebury College, where she’ll compete in the Division 1 Alpine racing program.
“It’s my time to develop my racing to be that much more competitive before starting to race at Middlebury,” she said.
This year, a new group of athletes will take to the Superstar course, giving the hometown crowd a preview of the coming racing action. Advanced students at KMS are selected to forerun the World Cup course based on their performance and merit. For Clark, it’s an experience she’ll never forget.
“This is the best thing I could ever imagine. I never thought in a million years we would have the World Cup come here or that I could be a part of it,” Clark said.