Right on course | TheUnion.com

Right on course

Corey Browning not only sees it, but feels it. And that’s a good thing, considering that when his skis are screaming down a Super G slope at 50 miles per hour the scene that unfolds inside his goggles is obscured by the sheer speed at which he travels.

The gates, though stuck firm deep in the snow, zip by in red and blue blurs.

Crowds at the bottom of the hill, taking in one of Browning’s leaderboard performances, are amazed by his speed and the split-second decisions his all-out pace makes necessary.

Johnny Flanigan not only sees it, but knows it. And that’s a good thing, considering it’s his technique that carries him down the slope in such an efficient style that he, too, often ends up high on the list of race results.

His eyes, always focused, follow the path he plotted prior to the race.

Those watching at the finish see his skis cut a smooth and graceful line down the course in a fashion that makes his runs seem almost effortless.

Browning and Flanigan, a pair of Nevada City 14-year-olds, have both been skiing nearly half their lives. And though their styles of skiing might be a study of stark contrasts, the end certainly justifies the means for these two junior skiers. No matter the method they used to get down the mountain, the fact is they’re both doing so swiftly enough to start reaping some rewarding accomplishments, including spots in the March 17-20 Junior Olympics at Snowbird, Utah.

“Last year, I was kind of really excited to go there,” said Browning, who competed in the “JO’s” in Sun Valley, Idaho last year. “This year, I know I have more of a chance to do well, so I’ll go do what I have to do.”

Browning and Flanigan, who both attended Seven Hills School in Nevada City, will each compete in the Western Region J3 division (ages 15 and under) of slalom, giant slalom and Super G races. And though their styles of skiing may be different, but they share a serious commitment to the sport.

“Both of these young men were highly successful students while they attended Seven Hills School,” said Seven Hills principal Joe Limov. “Corey graduated in 2004, and while at Seven Hills played several sports while keeping his edge on the slopes and successfully competing in downhill skiing.

“Johnny took time away from Seven Hills this year to attend Sugar Bowl Academy to refine his skiing, but will be back after the spring break to attend Seven Hills and get back to his rigorous academic schedule, which includes being in the highest math class, geometry.

“Both of these young men are looked up to by their classmates for making positive decisions, being focused on their goals and for adding to the positive culture of the school.”

As a Sugar Bowl Academy student, Flanigan has thrived on a daily regimen of skiing and studies. His schedule is laid out before with an itinerary similar to that of a college student-athlete.

He wakes, has breakfast and is on the snow from 9-11:30 a.m. each day. After a lunch break, he’s off to three afternoon academic courses Ð which vary from day to day Ð followed by an evening meal, a mandatory study hall session and then lights out.

“The Sugar Bowl Ski Academy is a college preparatory sixth- through 12th-grade school based on the premise that the dual pursuit of academic and athletic excellence is mutually beneficial and an important factor in the development of outstanding individuals,” said Bill Hudson, the academy’s executive director. “The success of the academy and ski team have allowed Sugar Bowl to return to its status as a major force in the national and international ski-racing scene.”

Hudson said in the early years of competitive skiing in the Tahoe-Donner area, some of the world’s best competed on the steeps of Sugar Bowl’s Mt. Lincoln, including the likes of Jimmy Heuga, Billy Kidd and Stein Ericksen.

Hudson, and fellow Sugar Bowl coaching staff member Patricia Gibbs, are former U.S. Ski Team members. The staff also includes Norwegian Olympic gold medalist Fin Christian Jagge, former Austrian men’s national leader Fritz Vallant and former U.S. team coach Herman Gollner.

“I think the consistency of skiing has just improved his confidence so much and with that confidence comes aggressiveness,” said Cheri Flanigan, Johnny’s mother. “Their coaching staff is amazing.”

“And,” added Jan Sahl, Browning’s grandmother, “they’re really involved with each of them as individuals. They really know these kids.”

That being the case, then, they know Browning’s hectic schedule that has him and his grandparents driving back and forth from Nevada City to the Norden ski resort each day to work out at Sugar Bowl. A freshman at Nevada Union High School, Browning rises and has breakfast before arriving at school around 6:40 a.m. He works out as a member of NU’s football team until 7:20 a.m., just before heading off to his classes, which he continues through 11:40 a.m. He arrives at Sugar Bowl by 12:30 p.m. and trains until 4 p.m.

“Then I come home, wax my skis, do my homework and go to bed around 10,” said Browning, who says his full plate of a day actually helps him build both physical and mental endurance. “Endurance is one of the key parts of skiing. When you’re going down the mountain at 55 miles per hour, in a tuck for a minute and 10 seconds, it’s definitely hard. But you’ve also got to have strength to get yourself out of any mistakes.”

In addition to skiing for the Sugar Bowl team, Browning is also a member of the NU alpine ski team, which competed at the California Nevada Interscholastic Ski and Snowboard Federation’s state championships. He said he skis with his high school team in Saturday practice sessions and regular competitions, in addition to his responsibilities with the Sugar Bowl team.

Browning described his skiing style as “extreme,” although Cheri Flanagan says “intuitive” might be more accurate. The level of comfort he feels while speeding down a steep hill – he admitted to signing his own “made-up” songs all along the way – seems so natural for Browning.

Her own son, she said, skis a more “calculated” or “studied” run.

“I’m a little nervous, because I don’t know the hill (at Snowbird),” Flanigan said of next week’s competition. “But it’s also always exciting to go to a new place, and especially to get to go to JO’s.”

Flanigan, who said he could see himself as an architect years down the road, said it’s his consistency in delivering solid performances is what typically places him toward the top of the final results.

Browning, on the other hand, said the sheer speed of his Super G performances is what most often pulls him up to rank with the cream of the crop.

“Before you start, you slip down the course and you just look at all of its key parts,” Browning said. “Then in the start gate, you think about the top section and all of its parts just before you start to get going.

“Then it’s really fun.

“Once you get going really fast, the air is coming in your goggles and your eyes start to water. So it’s kind of hard to find things like the bumpy spots. But once you get your edge set, you look forward to the next gate. Your body is making one turn, but your head is on the next one. You keep doing that all the way down, so you’re always prepared for the next gate.”

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