WENATCHEE — Jack Mitchell, 16, last year made the USA Nationals in Ski Cross. The amazing part is that it was his first year trying Ski Cross, after doing mostly alpine racing.
The Wenatchee youth was a natural in Ski Cross. He finished fourth at the USA Nationals. Certainly, the sky's the limit for Jack.
He’s been skiing since he was three. The racing started when he was six. At first, the racing was kind of a drag.
“It was a different thing than just free skiing with my dad. You are off with the team by yourself. You are with coaches and other kids. It’s a different environment. I got used to it pretty quick,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell starting skiing slalom and giant slalom. As he got older, he progressed to Super G and downhill. His father, Jim Mitchell, helped coach the intro-to-ski racing program, so he skied a lot with Jack and his friends.
Jack struggled at first because racing is so hard, Jim Mitchell said. Then, he started to blossom.
“The results started to come. He wasn’t a great racer but it takes a while as your body grows. It takes different skills and mental focus. He’s always been good about listening to coaches. He’s very coachable,” Jim Mitchell said.
Jack loved the alpine racing but he did crash a lot, almost every race. Without a crash, the results were pretty good. He was first introduced to Ski Cross at age 12. Jack started doing it against last year and it seemed like a perfect fit.
He liked the quicker movements and the jumps, which he was doing in his free time anyway. Certainly, the racing itself is much different than alpine.
“It’s a lot different, for sure, but I got used to it pretty quick. It’s a whole different animal when you’re racing against someone right by your side. Normally, you are just worrying about yourself, but in Ski Cross, those three other people that are with you,” Jack Mitchell said.
Jim Mitchell said Jack was always interested in Ski Cross, but could never find the time with his alpine racing schedule. However, when he started doing Ski Cross again, he took to it right away.
“The skier cross thing was crazy. You have to be a good alpine racer to be good at it,” Jim Mitchell said. “Hearing the coaches talk, they say he has super fast reflexes, able to process quickly, fearless, very good technical ability. These are NASCAR skis. You are doing turns at 3G or 50 MPH. And you are doing more than one race a day.”
At an alpine race, you might do two runs in a day. At Ski Cross, you have practice runs. Then, a qualifying run against the clock. Then, you start the brackets. The top two in each race advance. The field gets smaller and quicker.
It might seem exhausting, but not to Jack.
“I don’t really get tired out on skis. It keeps me going instead of waiting around. I like it more than alpine,” Jack Mitchell said.
Next year, Jack is planning to ski on the NorAm Tour, which is a notch below World Cup. It is a circuit around Canada and the U.S. Last season, Jack took home two golds, a silver and fourth at Nationals.
Jack is really young for the NorAm circuit, Jim Mitchell said.
“We have a team that is going to adopt him. We can put him on a plane to wherever he is going to be in the U.S. or Canada. He’ll meet up with that team, get some coaching, then put him on a plane to come back,” Jim Mitchell said. “He’s going to ski with Mort Nyberg from Squaw Valley. He has a full-time program. He’ll start accumulating points toward the World Cup. The next step is Junior Worlds. They make that decision on how he does on the NorAm circuit.
Next year, Jack moves up an age class, which will be a significant challenge.
“He’ll be racing against grown men trying to get on the World Cup or the Olympics. They aren’t going to care he is 16. They’ll put him into the net at 50 mph. He hasn’t that pleasure yet, getting thumped by someone that big,” Jim Mitchell said.
Nyberg, the head coach of the Squaw Valley Snowboard and Ski Cross team, saw Jack at Nationals. He had good technique and seemed like a really good kid motivated to make the World Cup in Ski Cross.
“It looks like he has good potential. He has good skills and skis very well. They are young right now. They are just getting their feet wet. It just depends on how much they want to put into it. Motivation. How much desire they have inside of them,” Nyberg said.
Next season, Jack will continue to race with the Mission Ridge Ski Team but will be selective on the races, not messing with the lower level races to keep costs down. He’ll break away and do the NorAm Cup, probably 10 races.
Next year for school, Jack plans to start Running Start at WVC. He’s been training at the WORX Gym to prepare for the NorAM season. There will be races in Maine and Colorado in the U.S. and two races in Canada, which only allows 15 Americans per race.
He will race again in the U.S. Nationals in Colorado, in April after NorAm season concludes. He may qualify for World Junior Champs for 16 -19-year-olds. The family is working on sponsorships to help with costs. He is allowed under International rules to wear a limited amount of logos on his USA race suit and helmet.