he miniature ski racer stood nervously at the starting gate, poised to launch.
Falling snow and a pesky cloud reduced visibility at the top of the Upper Hades race course.
"Racer ready," barked the starter. "Five, four, three, two, one ..."
The skier pushed out of the start house, dropping into a tuck at the first gate.
She carved around the red gate, around the next blue gate.
When she headed across a breakover to the next gate, she whipped past a group of attentive coaches and parents standing at the top of the headwall.
"Was she ... singing?" a coach asked.
"Yes, she was ... singing," answered a parent.
"What ... was she singing?" the coach asked.
"Dunno. Couldn't tell," the parent answered.
They both laughed.
Junior ski racing, J4 style, took center stage at Purgatory last weekend. The young ski racers, ages 11-12, gathered for the annual Jesse Scott Memorial Super-G races staged under the auspices of the USSA (United States Ski and Snowboard Association).
Eighty girls and boys from Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona donned their speed suits to represent their respective ski clubs from Vail, Crested Butte, Loveland, Taos, Telluride, Sunlight, Powderhorn, Purgatory, Red River, Flagstaff ... and points beyond.
The junior USSA competitors ran two super-G races on Saturday and one more on Sunday.
Mandatory training runs on Friday preceded the official races.
"We had a good weekend of racing," said Leah LeSage, the head coach and director of the Purgatory Alpine Ski Team.
"The home-course advantage is important in this race. Ever since we started this race (Jesse Scott Memorial Super-G), a Purgatory racer has won on this course," she said, referencing the unique rolling, terraced terrain of the Upper Hades run used for the J4 super-G's since 1996.
"The terrain is very different from what we see everywhere else," LeSage after the busy weekend of racing.
"We train on this hill all the time. So, we tend to do very, very well in this race," LeSage said, quick to add that the J4 skiers form one of the most interesting age groups in ski racing.
First, she said, they vary significantly in body size and type.
"You have a very, very wide range of body sizes and development at 11 and 12," LeSage said.
"You can have racers 165 pounds, 5-10 ... or they can be 4 feet tall and 60 pounds," the veteran ski racing coach said.
Secondly, she said, the J4 group is just discovering the need for speed in ski racing - especially in speed events like super-G and downhill.
"They ... are at an age where they want to start to go fast," LeSage said. "For some, this is their first or second year of ski racing. For others, they have been racing in gates for four or five years."
Plus, she said the matter-of-factly honest 11- and 12-year-olds still have a firm grip on fun.
Yes, they sing, sometimes.
And they yell, on course.
"And at this age, they don't have any other excuses. It's not ... the skis or the snow or the ... (flat) light. Somebody just went faster than they did ... and then they go out and ski again," said LeSage, who reveals her passion for the sport as she talks about the races and the young skiers.
Like Liam Wiess and Lauren Milliet of the Purgatory team.
On Saturday, Milliett won the afternoon super-G girls race after finishing a close second in the morning race.
Leah Newton of Vail was second to the Purgatory racer, while Jiliana Jennerjahn of Taos was third.
Grace McSwain of the Sunlight Ski Team from Glenwood Springs won the morning race in 44.46 seconds. Milliet was right behind in 44.91.
Racers from Ski Club Vail swept the next three positions in the morning race.
Katarina Seibert of the Purgatory team finished 13th. Teammate Megan Pope was 19th.
In the afternoon super-G, Seibert finished 16th. Pope was 24th.
Wiess set the fastest pace for the local skiers in the boys J4 races on Saturday.
He rocketed to 1-2 finishes.
The Purgatory racer won the morning super-G, blistering the course in 41.96 seconds.
Anthony Wada of Loveland was second (42.54).
Wiess, in his second year with the Purgatory team and a former racer at Alyeska, Alaska, was second in the afternoon. Wada won in 42:00. Wiess was next in 42:29.
Purgatory's Jesse Rubenstein raced to a fourth-place finish in the afternoon. He was ninth in the morning super-G.
On Sunday, Quin Davis of Vail vaulted to the top spot. He won in 46.04 in much different snow conditions than Saturday. Davis had finished third and fourth on Saturday.
Vail teammate Clayton Kirwood was second, and Wada was third on Sunday.
Purgatory's Wiess was fourth. Rubenstein finished 23rd on the Sunday course that featured more turns.
For the record, the certified super-G course had 23 gates, 17 turns over a length of 817 meters.
Also Sunday, Vail's Newton won the girls race with teammates Katie Talbot and Sasha Horn finishing second and third, respectively.
Seibert was 19th for the Purgatory team.
LeSage, who directs the Purgatory program and its 40-plus junior skiers, said the team is fortunate to have a second round of races at home this year.
In addition to the J4 races last weekend, she said the club and the Purgatory race crew will host more USSA events Feb. 28-March 1, a giant slalom and a slalom.
All youth age classes will participate, she said.
"And we've got such a great race crew," LeSage said. She added that the race officials and the crew at Purgatory combine for terrific races at home.
"Ron Conaty, the chief of race, and Dale Womack, chief of course ... they are awesome, and they did such a good job for the kids," LeSage said.
"The entire (Purgatory) race crew is outstanding," she said.
The annual Jesse Scott Memorial Super-G events are named for former Purgatory racer Jesse Scott, who was killed in an auto accident.
He raced with the Purgatory ski team for 11 years.
The Scott families and the Anderson family sponsor a family barbecue for the skiers and their coaches and families during the weekend of racing. Gazpacho's restaurant and Coca-Cola Bottling of Durango assisted with sponsorship for the family barbecue.