Connor Hogan will be one of the skiers to watch at this weekend's nationals. (Photo: Joe Kusumoto)
The Para Alpine Skiing National Championships always make for a good race. But this year, after a string of canceled races last year including the 2020 nationals, skiers are feeling the pressure.
Connor Hogan, a LW9-2 skier who competed at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, wants to make sure he collects as many points as possible at the race.
“(Nationals are) just for fun most years,” Hogan said. “This one has a little more due to the fact that we really didn’t have a race season for the most part.”
Nationals will take place in Winter Park, Colorado, home of the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD), from March 27-31. The program will include three Paralympic disciplines: giant slalom,slalom and super-G.All athletes will need to quarantine for three days prior to the competition, and get tested for COVID-19. Spectators will not be allowed.
Some of the top national team members will be out with injuries, but nationals will still feature up-and-coming talents from the national team such as Hogan and Ravi Drugan. Drugan has been on thenational team for two seasons as a sit-skier. He currently ranks ninth in the world in slalom and 13th in downhill. The Oregon native is a former freestyle skier who pocketed a bronze medal at the 2015 Winter X Games. He is hoping for challenging conditions in Winter Park.
“The worse the weather is and the harder the course is, the better I do normally,” Drugan said. “Everybody else is so used to a consistent course, and when I can have some more obstacles besides what’s in front of me, I kind of push through that.”
Hogan sits 13th in the world in super-G and tied for 20th in downhill, his two best disciplines. He is not putting too much pressure on himself for nationals.
“I expect to do as well as I can,” he said. “I try to keep my expectations low going in. If I try to say, ‘This is what I want, this is where I’m going to go,’ and then I don’t do so well, it’s upsetting, to say the least. I try to keep my expectations to a minimum so that I don’t overwhelm myself and start overthinking.”
Hogan trains out of Vermont. When the pandemic first hit, he was skiing his best ever, and his coaches were impressed. But he had to stay off snow for around eight months. That is the longest he has ever been off snow.
“I was like, ‘OK, what do I do now? How do I stay where I am skiing-wise going into however long this is going to be?’” he recalled.
He realized he had time to explore other goals, like school and mountain biking. Hogan said the time away from the snow reminded him why he got into skiing in the first place: To go fast and win.
“It was a mental challenge everyday,” he said. “I did a lot of things that I may not have been able to do in a normal season.”
Hogan has changed his body composition over the past year, and he hopes that is reflected in more points in the world rankings. He has competed in three series this winter.
“(I) came back into this year, and had a few goals,” he said. “Those goals were not where I wanted them to be. … I knew I could ski better.”
Winter Park is the first hill Drugan ever raced. The course, he said, can be icy on top, and soften up at the bottom. It can also be a “spring slush.”He nonetheless wants to “slay” the slalom in Winter Park, and finish on the podium in every race. Drugancompeted in a few races earlier this year in Europe, and scored his first world cup podium.
“It was far from my best skiing, but I still managed to stick with it (at that event),” he said. “The times don’t match where I would be happy with at all.”
Drugan said he wants to continue envisioning he is among the best in the nation.
“(I want to improve) my overall confidence being on a real race surface, and my overall confidence knowing I’m competitive, I do belong on the U.S. team and I do belong on the world cup circuit.”