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Spotlight on Los Alamos: Skier Austin Prince does Los Alamos proud

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By Carol A. Clark

In the first ski competition of his life, Austin Prince, 17, placed sixth in the junior men’s category of the 2008 Salomon Extreme Freeride Championships held March 8 in Taos. The event attracts some of freeskiing’s top athletes, including competitors from throughout North America, Canada, Europe and Japan. The Los Alamos High School junior is the grandson of George Irving Bell Jr., former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Theoretical Division, who was at the forefront of LANL’s involvement in the human genome project. Bell was a world-class mountain climber who made a first ascent of 25,000-foot Masherbrum in the Himalayas and first ascents of two Peruvian Andes peaks. Taos Ski Valley hosts the Salomon Extreme Freeride Championships held on its steep terrain, with venues including the ragged chutes and cliffs of the West Basin and Kachina Peak.Competitors move through a variety of qualifying days, with top finishers advancing to the next round to ski more difficult venues. Competitors are judged on degree of difficulty of line, aggression, fluidity, control and style by a panel of five judges. The field is progressively cut until only the top athletes remain to compete on the final day.Prince scored fourth in the March 6 qualifying run against skiers with coaches, sponsors and agents. His mother, Carolyn Bell, described the other skiers as equipped with new clothes and body armor – while her son just had on his regular ski clothes and a helmet. For his run March 7, Prince borrowed his dad’s dirt-biking body armor. He came in eighth place in the 14- to 17-year-old age group, she said. The final competition followed the next day. Prince hiked some 45 minutes up Kachina Peak to do his inspection run and back up another 45 minute hike to complete his final run.“The competition was very intimidating, and there were lots of photographers and people being interviewed,” Prince said. Many areas of the terrain skiers jumped from were nearly vertical. “I was completely nervous watching Austin,” Bell said. “Austin jumped 10-15 foot cliffs and he did them so beautifully and so smoothly. It’s amazing to me that he had three clean runs in a row to come in sixth out of about 35 competitors. He was fabulous.”Bell and Prince’s father, Peter Prince, are both skiers and first took their son skiing at Pajarito when he was 6 years old. “He went for two runs on the beginner’s hill and could then go to the top,” she said. “He took to it real fast.”Austin Prince has skied every weekend since Thanksgiving and everyday during Christmas break. He said extreme skiing is the sport he likes most. “It’s what I love to do,” he said. If the Olympics had an extreme skiing category, Prince said he would definitely strive to compete in it.“I’m an adrenalin junky,” he said. “I love jumping off cliffs and skiing on the edge. It keeps me going from my crazy teenage life. It’s dangerous and not what most people would consider doing but I love it and for me, it clears my mind.” The family is scheduled during spring break to meet with ski coaches at colleges in Colorado and Utah. A coach from the University of Colorado at Boulder was one of the judges at the Taos competition where Prince scored high in aggressiveness and technique. “Boulder has an extreme ski team that competes all over the world,” Prince said. “I’m going to ski with them over spring break and I hope to get accepted on the team and that’ll get me out into the world.”