Kennewick duo excels at skiercross

Kennewick's Sarah Koehler doesn't wait for snow to practice her skiercross skills -- she just slips into a pair of rollerblades and hits the rolling hills near Inspiration Estates.

"We train on a hill so that we get the speed of going down a hill and the track turns," Koehler said. "We practice our tucks and practice our stance. It uses the same leg muscles as snow-skiing."

Koehler knows a little about these things. She placed second in the Women's Open skier event at the 2009 USA Snowboarders Association National Championships on April 5-10 in Copper Mountain, Colo.

She also earned five first-place finishes earlier this year at skiercross tournaments at Mt. Hood Meadows, Timberline Lodge and Boise's Tamarack Resort.

Koehler described the conditions in Colorado as perilous.

"They did a really good job with how they set it up this year," she said. "They had good safety precautions, but I'm sure it'll increase next year because of the sheer amount of people carted off."

BreAnna Morgan, 16, another Kennewick veteran of the 2009 nationals, often joins Koehler on these "dry" runs.

The downhill duo met on the ski team at Bluewood and became fast friends -- and friendly rivals.

"Out of Washington, we're each other's most legitimate competition," said Morgan, a student at Southridge who placed sixth overall in the Girls 11-15 Skier Girls bracket at nationals.

In skiercross, a group of skiers compete on a downhill course at the same time, trying to cross the finish line first while crossing over natiural terrain as well as man-made jumps.

"It's kind of like motocross," Morgan said of the sport in which she has garnered eight first-place finishes dating back to March 1, 2008. "Dirt bikes -- it's a lot like that."

The event has been added for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

"Sarah and I, we don't necessarily go as fast as we do on skis," Morgain said of the practice runs. "There is a limited range on rollerblades ... the worst we can get is a twisted wrist and road burns."

She also said racing alongside Koehler is a reprieve from the extreme atmosphere of a boardercross/skiercross event.

"You don't have five people racing against you, there aren't random jumps and rollers."