SARANAC LAKE - "Did I beat him?" five-year-old Morgan Olson asked her mother after skiing a slalom course at Mount Pisgah. She was racing Ted Ligety, the overall World Cup champion for giant slalom.
"I'm not sure," said Nikki Olson, the girl's mother. "It was close."
Morgan, who is from Bloomingdale, was one of about a 100 children who got to pal around with U.S Ski Team athletes on March 19, the day before the Alpine Championships began at Whiteface Mountain. About a half dozen of the athletes warmed up for the big race by skiing what Ligety called a challenging course at Pisgah.
"It's about on par with Park City," he said, referring to the mountains he grew up skiing in Utah. Ligety said he had a chance to ski with Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe when he was young, "so it's really incredible for me to be out here with these kids today."
The friends of Mount Pisgah organized the event to raise money for the "Lift mount Pisgah" project, part of an effort to replace the mountain's 70-year old T-bar. About 130 lift tickets were sold at $15 each, in addition to dozens of Lift Mount Pisgah T-shirts and concessions, bringing in a total of about $2,400.
In 1989 the group collected $35,000 to put in snow-making, and in 1999 volunteers raised a half million dollars to build the current ski lodge after a wall in the old lodge caved in.
"Fundraising for the new lift is going in the right direction," said Mt. Pisgah Manager Matt Cook. "We're in our second year of fundraising and support from the community has been incredible. We couldn't be more excited to host the U.S. Ski Team."
The mountain was kept open later than usual this year in order to host the event.
Skiers said the conditions were surprisingly good for a day with temperatures rising above 60-degrees. Many of the athletes were comfortable in traditional North Country attire, including checked flannel shirts and blue jeans, wowing onlookers as they swished through the soft snow and soared over ski jumps.
Most of the children who attended the event were from the area, but there were also visitors from scattered locations in other parts of the state. Klem Hallagan, a 12-year-old skier from Rochester, said he planned to emulate the members of the U.S. Ski Team.
"I want to be a racer," he said. "I want to be just like them."
After skiing with the athletes, Hallagan and the other children crowded into the ski-lodge to get Autographs on their cloths, helmets and other gear. Olympic medalist and Lake Placid native Andrew Weibrecht was unable to ski because of a shoulder injury, but that didn't prevent him from showing up at the event to sign dozens of autographs. A few children even got a chance to hold his bronze medal.
Other U.S. Ski Team athletes at the event included two-time Olympian Jimmy Cochran of Keene, N.H., four-time Olympian Sarah Schleper of Vail, Colo., Will Brandenburg of Spokane, Wash, Keely Kelleher of Big Sky Mont, Kaylin Richardson of Edina, Minn and Alice McKennis of Glenwood Springs, Colo.
"It's amazing that this region has so many athletes," said Olson, "and now that some of them are here at this little mountain, it's just inspiring. We're especially excited because Ted won the World Cup."