Berther works way to top of mountain, named to U.S. ski team

Sammamish resident Vanessa Berther was caught off guard by the phone call she received from the U.S. ski team at the beginning of May — at least not at this point in her life.

Skyline junior Vanessa Berther was named to the U.S. ski team in May.

Skyline junior Vanessa Berther was named to the U.S. ski team in May.

Sammamish resident Vanessa Berther wasn’t expecting the phone call she received from the U.S. ski team at the beginning of May — at least not at this point in her life.

“I was like, ‘No, there’s no way, you didn’t perform as well as you should have,'” she said. “When (the coach) called, I was just stunned. I didn’t know what to do at all.”

Berther, 17, learned early last month that she made the U.S. alpine ski team as part of the developmental squad, or D-team. The announcement came after she competed in the U.S. Nationals in Alaska, and finished third overall in the junior division in four events — slalom, giant slalom, super G and downhill. She placed 12th overall for all ages in the slalom. That came a month after she won the giant slalom at the J2 National Junior Olympics in Aspen, Colo.

Despite her success, Berther’s expectations were low leaving Alaska. The goal was to make the team next year.

“I convinced myself I wasn’t going to make the team,” she said. “I was told I was nominated, but I was like, ‘No, there are so many other girls ahead of me.'”

Reaching the U.S. team marked a life-long goal for Berther, who has skied since age 3.

Her father, Jacques, who has coached Vanessa on Team Alpental-Snoqualmie since she was 8, never doubted his daughter’s physical ability.

“She’s a small size, 5-feet barley, but she’s very strong and she can do any discipline, she’s a four-event skier,” he said. “And, I think that’s why they were looking at her, she’s not just able to do one, but all of them.”

While he wasn’t surprised her skills got to her where she’s at, there were two factors working against Vanessa.

The first being a very simple fact — very few skiers on the U.S. team come from Washington state.

“You just don’t make the U.S. ski team when you’re from Seattle, it just doesn’t happen,” Jacques said.

There are only two other Washington skiers on the roster, including Scott Macartney of Kirkland and Colby Granstrom of Lake Stevens. Utah has eight skiers on the roster, while Vermont has five. The last Washington female to make the team was Libby Ludlow of Bellevue. She made the U.S. team 10 years ago, before retiring May 2008 because of knee surgery.

Vanessa is also a rarity in that she goes to a public school. She wrapping up her junior year at Skyline High School, while most competitive skiers at her level are home-schooled, or shipped off to special academies.

“It’s pretty difficult,” Vanessa said. “It’s stressing because I don’t want to do it, but I have to. I have to teach myself, math, science…”

She currently carries a load of six classes, and has a grade-point average between 3.4 and 3.5, despite missing 35 days of school this year.

She is trying to get ahead in classes for her senior year, so she can participate in 2010 graduation ceremony next June.

Staying on top of education in the off-season will no doubt be important as she already has U.S. team events planned in Chile this September, Austria this October and Colorado this November.

As a member of the D-team, there are A, B, and C squads, or approximately 22 skiers above Vanessa. She said the 2010 Olympics are out of the picture, but her aspirations are soaring high.

“I’m hoping 2014, if not the 2018,” she said.

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