Top skiers headed to Maine for national championships

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) Fresh from the World Cup finals, Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin and other top U.S. skiers are headed from France to Maine to finish the competitive season at the U.S. Alpine Championships.

Vonn, the most decorated female ski racer in history, will headline the event that begins Wednesday and runs through the weekend at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley in western Maine. She finished the World Cup season by clinching downhill and Super-G titles with season-ending wins. Shiffrin did the same for her third straight World Cup slalom title.

It'll be Vonn's first time at the national championships since returning from a serious knee injury. She said she hopes to inspire up-and-coming skiers to aim high.

''It meant a lot to me as a young ski racer to compete in this event amongst some of the best ski racers in the world, and I'm hoping to have the same influence on the younger generation,'' she said before leaving France.

For Shriffin, it'll be her first time at Sugarloaf.

''Sugarloaf seems like a rite of passage almost for every (International Ski Federation) racer in the U.S., and I've never skied there,'' she said. ''I'm checking that off the list.''

Sugarloaf experienced a chairlift mechanical failure that injured seven skiers over the weekend, but the U.S. ski team says it's confident in Sugarloaf's ability to host the event.

Competition starts Wednesday with the Super-G, followed by giant slalom and slalom events. New England currently has some of the nation's best skiing conditions, but there's a chance of rain Thursday.

Several notable skiers are expected to be absent: Julia Mancuso is nursing a sore hip, and Bode Miller is recovering from a leg injury. Also missing will be Ted Ligety.

Sugarloaf has hosted the nationals five times - the most recent being in 2008 - and the resort's ''Narrow Gauge Trail'' is familiar to most up-and-coming skiers.

Historically the event moved around the country.

This year marks the start of a formal alternating relationship between East and West with Sugarloaf hosting in 2015 and 2017, and Sun Valley, Idaho, hosting in 2016 and 2018.

The ski team said it's important to engage up-and-coming skiers and fans on both coasts.

''We like being in the East because of the skiing population. It's the most densely populated part of the country for participants,'' said ski team spokesman Tom Kelly.

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Follow David Sharp on Twitter at https://twitter.com/David-Sharp-AP

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