Whenever she sees snow, Nikita Norton thinks speed.

Whenever she sees snow, Nikita Norton thinks speed.

The 14-year-old is training today at the Sugar Bowl ski resort outside Truckee, Calif., for one of the region's most elite ski races for someone her age.

It's a one-shot run.

If she beats the 17 other girls from around the West, she heads to Europe for the world championship. If she comes in second, or anything after, she walks.

But Nikita says this race isn't just about winning. The prestigious Topolino Shootout provides exposure and the possibility of sponsorships or college recruits.

"I'm hoping I can just get in the top five, and I'll be satisfied," Norton says.

Norton will race three consecutive time trials on Saturday, and three on Sunday, a format different than most races, which focus on a point system.

Skiers in Nikita's J3 race division in the Pacific Northwest Ski Association start the season with 990 points to their name, and they compete all season to lower their scores — the lower the score, the better the racer. Factors such as weather, snow conditions and other racers' performance are considered when adjusting points to reflect skiers' progress.

Nikita spends time studying other racers' scores and scoping out competitions that will bring her the best results. If a particular race had only weaker skiers and Nikita won by a long shot, for example, it would do nothing to help lower her score, which is the ultimate goal.

Racers who lower their score below 250 in a season receive an elite skier pass, good for free lift tickets anywhere within their region. Nikita is enjoying her first year with the pass, which helps save money when traveling to races.

Nikita was skiing by the time she was a year old and racing by age 4. She remembers 48 race starts from last season alone.

She competed in the Junior Olympics last year, and has qualified for the PNSA's championship Buddy Werner race for the last four years.

She skis the five days a week that the Mount Ashland ski area is open, and fits most of her schooling at the Waldorf-based Siskiyou School in Ashland into Tuesdays and Wednesdays when the mountain is closed.

"I pretty much let the mountain raise her," says her mom, Cindy Norton.

"But, we keep the grades up just in case."

Nikita says that between skiing and schooling, skiing is more important right now.

"If I make it to the Olympics, college will be out of the question," she says.

Skiing is a family tradition, and both of Nikita's parents and her older sister Hannah raced when they were younger. It was her sister's interest in skiing that pushed Nikita to go faster when she started skiing.

"I've always been really competitive," Nikita says. "I wanted to beat her at everything I did."

The family lives on a ranch near the California border, just off the Mount Ashland access road.

Her long skiing and racing history has given Nikita the upper hand at many races, and her experience with firm snow and icy conditions on Mount Ashland has helped, too.

Nikita has many memories on her home mountain — including one ski run that took her from the summit all the way down to Lithia Park.

"We were on Ariel along the boundary line, and I just kind of took off," Norton recalls.

She thought she still had time to cut over and meet up with the trail, but realized she had gone too far. She ended up in waist-deep powder, waiting for help.

"I was really scared," she recalls. "I thought I would never see anyone again."

Mount Ashland ski patrollers found Nikita around dark, but she was so far down the mountain it made the most sense to just keep skiing.

Nikita and the patrollers skied most of the way into Ashland, and her parents picked her up at the top of Lithia Park after midnight.

The incident was startling for Nikita, but didn't deter her desire for adventure and speed. Some of her other hobbies are wakeboarding and waterskiing, and she recently took up flying.

She had to pick a 40-hour project to work on for her eighth-grade class, and thought it would be a good way to get inside a plane.

"I've already spent seven hours in the cockpit, and I've done a couple barrel rolls," she says.

Nikita says she plans to get her pilot's license when she turns 16.

"She does like to go fast," Cindy says. "I must admit it."

Reach Southern Oregon University intern Teresa Ristow at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.