As Nordic skiers, we tend to ignore the traditional calendar that most people operate on. Instead of days, weeks, and months, we categorize our year far more simplistically, it’s either training time, or racing time.
We like racing time quite a bit more.
This is because races are a distillation, a concentration, of all the things that we love about skiing. Training allows us to compete against one another, fly across the ground at rapid speeds, and make ourselves suffer, but racing does all those things in a more powerful way.
Our first races of the year, were held in West Yellowstone Montana, the traditional venue for season opening races.
We began with a skate sprint (one of my favorite events) and it went incredibly well for the whole SMST2 team. Every single athlete finished in the top 30, and advanced to the quarterfinal heats. My day brought me mixed feelings, as I won the qualifier in the morning, but failed to execute properly and ended up 11th at the end of the day.
Paddy made his first ever open heats.
Erika had an awesome day!
The Annie’s also crushed it, especially Annie P who qualified in 2nd place!
The second race of the weekend was a skate distance race, 10k for the women and 15k for the men. The race course at West Yellowstone is a beastly thing, and it pushed everyone to their limits (a racer even passed out at the top of the final hill!) Everyone on the T2 team had solid races, though no one was entirely satisfied with the result. Paddy Caldwell and I finished 10th and 11th respectively in the Men’s race, while the girls put out a strong showing, with Annie P in 10th, Erika in 12th, and Annie Hart in 21st. We also had Katherine Ogden traveling with us on this trip, KO as we call her, is a junior year student at the SMS high school, but she certainly didn’t race like one, and finished 2nd out of all the women’s racers on the day.
After West Yellowstone, we made the drive back to Bozeman MT, the home of our teammate Erika Flowers. Bozeman was to be the site of our next two races, this time up at the infamous Bohart Ranch, home to several NCAA and US National championships over the years.
The first race at Bohart was a classic sprint, my favorite type of racing. In the days leading up to the classic sprint on Saturday, Bozeman had been experiencing unseasonally warm weather, and the snow was breaking down at a fantastic rate. Because of this, we expected to see spring-like conditions when we came to the venue for Saturday’s race, but a cold snap overnight had turned the morning snow from slush to something more like steel. We had not completely prepared for that possibility, and because of that, we were not at our best as a team in the qualifier. I finished 16th in the qualifier, while Erika finished 7th for the women, KO finished 14th and Annie Hart was 17th. By the time heats rolled around, we had dialed in our ski preparation much more, and it showed. Both KO and I made it on to the semifinals, and I ended up finishing .1 seconds out in the mens final for 2nd place on the day.
The second race at Bohart was a classic mass start distance race. This is normally one of my favorite types of races, but I did not have much left in the tank, and I finished the day in 18th, a good result to be sure, but something I definitely aim to improve upon. The girls had a much better day, and finished withe KO in 3rd, Erika and Annie Hart in 10th and 11th, and Annie P in 20th meaning that all of them scored SuperTour points on the day.
After the Bozeman races, our group all went separate ways. Erika stayed home to enjoy some family time, KO returned to Vermont, while the Annie’s, Coach Pat and I headed up to Rossland BC for two more races with our Canadian cohorts.
Much like Bozeman, Rossland was experiencing very warm weather and lots of rain to go with it, which meant that the snow was very broken down and slushy. The volunteers did a tremendous job working with a snowbase of only 10cm which should have been grounds for canceling the race. Instead, they put in tremendous amounts of work, and made the course very skiable for the weekend races.
Just as in Bozeman, a cold snap came in very quickly and the snow became quite solid overnight before the first Classic interval start of the weekend. This time we were completely prepared and the races went off without a hitch. I finished 15th in the Men’s race, while Annie P finished 9th in the Women’s race, and Anne Hart finished 16th which was great considering she had to deal with several falls on the course’s icy corners.
The second race was another Classic interval start, and everyone had a much better day having had a chance to get used to the dangerous icy corners on the course. I finished in 12th place overall, while Annie P finished just outside the top 5 in 6th place, and Anne Hart finished 8th. Everyone was very pleased with their Sunday results, even though we know there’s a lot of room for improvement.
All in all, I’m happy that the races are finally here. Racing is one of the biggest parts of why I love Nordic skiing as much as I do, and I love doing it. Though I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my opening races, I learned a few good lessons, and was reminded that racing well–just like everything else in our sport–takes time.