By GEORGE SMITH; Times Leader Outdoors Editor


MOOSIC — The first day of the 6th annual Keystone State Games Winter Sports Festival got under way Thursday morning with a challenging downhill ski race at Montage Ski Area.
The Winter Sports Festival is a four-day celebration of amateur figure skating, alpine skiing and snowboard racing competitions.
The downhill is the premier, glamour event in alpine ski racing. Greg Congdon, the fastest racer of the day, said he reached speeds of more than 60 mph at the bottom of the mile-long course.
Congdon, 24, from Forest City, posted the fastest time of all the 46 entrants, 69.94 seconds, and won the age 20-24 male division of the race.
“I loved it,’ Congdon said. “The course had everything. The top half of the course was perfect for gliders, and the bottom half was perfect for skiers who like to turn. There were even three headwalls where you got a little bit of air.”
While three more days of ski racing remained after Thursday’s downhill, Congdon won’t be competing. He said he has to return to his job as a ski representative for Alpina ski boots, Hart skis and Reusch gloves.
Joanna May, a 17-year-old senior at Bishop O’Hara High School in Scranton, won the female age 15-19 division with a time of 83.86. May was the only female to compete in the downhill.
“The course was great,” the ebullient, red-headed May said. “I wasn’t really worried about the difficulty of the course too much because I knew my bindings would release if I fell. But, I wish more girls had entered.”
The course started at the top of the mountain on an intermediate trail called Spike. Racers had to drop deep into a tuck to carry their speed on this relatively flat section of the course. Then, after a sharp turn at mid-mountain, the trail plunged onto a trail appropriately named Cannonball on the expert-rated North Face complex.
The skiers faced three dangerous headwalls at high speed as well as a series of treacherous turns before reaching the finish line.
Josh VanJura, 15, took first place in the age 15-19 male division.
VanJura, from Trucksville, finished the course with a time of 75.43.
“The course was good, it was fast, it was really fast,” said VanJura, a former Times Leader carrier who attends Green Mountain Valley School, a ski academy near Sugarbush, Vt.
VanJura was competing in the Festival during a school break. He said his coach advised him to compete in the downhill.
“I attend a ski academy, so we train on snow every day. We train for the speed events, like Super-G, but we don’t train downhill. My coach thought that running a downhill would be a good experience,” he said.
VanJura said he hopes to have a career in skiing, and wants to compete on the demanding World Cup circuit.
“AJ Kitt graduated from Green Mountain Valley School, so I won’t mind being like him. I would like to compete on that level,” VanJura said.
Lee Roy Jones, 45, from Exeter, took first place in the male age 45-and-over division with a time of 82.59.
“I was worried about the practice run, but the course was real nice,” Jones said. “Everything fell into place.”
The entire Jones family will be competing in the ski racing portion of the Festival.
Jones’ wife, Marilyn, will compete Saturday and Sunday, as will the Jones’ children; Ryan, age 11, and Brett, age 7.
Rich Mitchell, 42, from Bear Creek, captured first place in the age 40-44 male division. Mitchell, from the Bear Creek Ski Shack, posted a time of 76.54.
“It was a great course on a great mountain,” Mitchell said. “And yes, I’ll be competing for the next three days.”
Tom Mitchell, 35, who is also associated with the Bear Creek Ski Shack, captured second place in the male age 35-39 division.
Martin Burns, 31, of Wyalusing, posted the second-fastest time of the day — 70.51 — and took first place in the male age 30-34 division.
“The course had all the elements,” Burns said. “It was flat on top, so you had to keep your speed up. On the bottom there was speed, and air. It was a good course,” Burns said.
The Festival’s skiing and snowboarding events will be held at Montage through Sunday, while figure skating competitions will be held at the Wilkes-Barre Ice-A-Rama Saturday and Sunday.
Today, a giant slalom race for skiers will be held beginning at 11 a.m.
A special reception for all Festival entrants and the official opening ceremonies will be held today at Montage beginning at 5:30 p.m. The opening ceremonies will include a torchlight parade, fireworks and music.
Saturday’s ski events include a modified giant slalom for skilled racers as well as novices beginning at 9:30 a.m. A giant slalom for snowboarders has also been scheduled.
And, a skiing moguls challenge will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
There are three events scheduled for Montage on Sunday: a dual slalom event, a half-pipe freestyle competition for snowboarders and a ballet freestyle competition for skiers.
The dual slalom and half pipe event are set for 9:30 a.m., while the ballet competition is slated for 1 p.m.
The Festival’s United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) sanctioned events will be held at the Ice-A-Rama on Saturday and Sunday, while Ice Skating Institute of America (ISIA) events will be held Sunday.
Here are the complete results from Thursday’s downhill at Montage.
Age 15-19
1. Joanna May, Scranton, 83.86.
Age 15-19
1. Josh VanJura, Trucksville, 75.43; 2. Jay Penchansky, Lancaster, 76.23; 3. Kevin Morrin, Fairless Hills, 76.28.
Age 20-24
1. Greg Congdon, Forest City, 69.94; 2. Charles Minnucci, Doylestown, 74.74; 3. Richard Winstock, Pittsburgh, 75.69.
Age 25-29
1. Rolf Mair, Oley, 71.81; 2. John Kelly, Scranton, 74.25; 3. Emmett Mancinelli, Scranton, 75.54.
Age 30-34
1. Martin Burns, Wyalusing, 70.51; 2. David Flack, Holicong, 72.11; 3. Jim Vorozilchak, Scranton, 72.68.
Age 35-39
1. William Ayres, Levittown, 74.32; 2. Tom Mitchell, Wilkes-Barre, 75.42; 3. Joseph Kopeck, Pittston Township, 80.70.
Age 40-44
1. Rich Mitchell, Bear Creek, 76.54; 2. Al Bellucci, Mountaintop, 86.84.
Age 45 and over
1. Lee Roy Jones, Exeter, 82.59; 2. Michael Beautyman, Flourtown, 86.31; 3. Bill Battles, Gulph Mills, 89.45.

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