GIRDWOOD, Alaska March 18, 2004 (USST) - Less than 12 hours after arriving from the end of the World Cup season in Europe, Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA) won the men's FIS-level downhill Thursday before the start of the Chevrolet U.S. Alpine Championships at Alyeska Resort. A second Lake Tahoe racer, Jonna Mendes (Heavenly, CA), won the women's downhill.
Rahlves, who stuck around in Sestriere, Italy, for a couple of days to test equipment, arrived shortly before dawn, grabbed a couple of hours of sleep and then fore-ran the women's FIS race so he would have one run on the course before racing in the men's event at 12:30 p.m. When it started, Rahlves started 13th and finished in 1:43.95 to edge Kevin Francis (Bend, OR) by .2 with Bryon Friedman (Park City, UT) in third place at 1:44.26 for the 2.7K course.
"This is a good start for me, especially considering I didn't get here until 4:30 this morning," Rahlves said. "What's really amazing is that all 17 of our bags made it, too!"
Rahlves, the winningest U.S. man in World Cup downhill history (six DH victories, including March 10 at World Cup Finals in Sestriere, Italy), said he liked the Bowl/Gelende racing trail at Alyeska. "This is a good course for nationals. Even on the flat sections they have a lot of terrain."
Earlier, Jonna Mendes (Heavenly, CA) won the women's FIS race with a time of 1:46.27. Lindsey Kildow (Vail, CO) was second in 1:46.38 with reigning U.S. DH champion Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA) in third place (1:47.60).
The championships begin Friday, returning to Alyeska for the first time since 1981. Doug Powell and Holly Flanders were the U.S. downhill champions that year.
The schedule for this year's championships include the traditional Chevrolet Return of the Champions in which Olympics and World Championships medalists return to enjoy a relaxing giant slalom with teams comprised of alumni, current U.S. Ski Team athletes and development-level racers. There also are opportunities for socializing and sharing racing tips and philosophies.
Friday - downhill
Saturday - super G
* - Chevrolet Return of the Champions XI (2 p.m., fun GS after SGs)
Sunday - slalom
Monday - men's giant slalom
Tuesday - women's GS
The FIS downhill traditionally starts the championships racing, giving skiers an opportunity to improve their international downhill ranking; 59 men and 34 women raced.