The U.S. Nationals Travel Guide

Erika breaks down the crazy weather week of US Nationals! 

Last week the SMS Elite domestic squad made their way to Park City, UT for one of the biggest weeks of racing all year: U.S. Nationals. The championship event returned to Soldier Hollow, Utah this year as a test event for the upcoming World Junior/U23 competition set to kick off in just over two weeks. The races took place on new courses and started in a brand new stadium. Although we never actually left Utah during the last 2 weeks, the variety of weather, racing and snow conditions thrown at us (and lets be honest, thrown primarily at our wax techs) made it feel like a trip around the world. I present you with a geographical tour of U.S. Nationals 2017…

Location: The Arctic Circle

Race: Skate 10km/15km Individual Start

Weather: Cold, single digits, sunny

Highlights: Paddy fought off his fellow polar bears for the 3rd spot on the American podium (and 4th overall) to kick off a solid start to the week and show once again why we all drool when we watch him skate ski…he’s just that smooth. Erika (me) started the race on fire (perhaps an attempt to outrace the frigid temps) and channeled her inner penguin, gliding across the snow. Unfortunately, an aggressive seal in the form of lactic acid caught up with her around 7km and she suffered through a major blow-up and near disqualification before dragging herself across the line in 8th place.  Anne Hart crushed the pacing with even splits (same time for each lap) and finished in the top 30 but was left dreaming of warmer temps.  Finally, Katherine led the women’s side with a strong 4th place finish and later asked Paddy for an Eskimo kiss, as is custom when two skiers score the same place (just kidding!)

KO racing so fast!
KO racing so fast!
Paddy on the podium
Paddy on the podium

Location: Seattle, Washington 

Race: Classic Sprint

Weather: Rainy and wet

Highlights: The classic sprint day mission was two-fold: 1. Win some stuff and 2. Build an ark. Heavy rain and warm temps combined to create a flood of water beneath and around the wax trailers. Our warm-up included dragging sandbags and building a small dam to stop the wall of water from washing away our skis and Coach Pat (so that’s a bit of an exaggeration…but sandbags and dams were definitely involved). As it turns out a few of our skiers are pretttty good at swimming and paddled their way around the classic sprint course in record time. Ben won the qualifier by over a second (!!!) and Julia and Anne both made the heats with room to spare.  The girls went on to finish 7th and 5th (respectively) and Ben 9th. The only thing we forgot was a pair of goggles and a swim cap but everyone seemed pleased to finish the day and head inside for a hot cup of chocolate and a towel.

Julia sprinting away!
Julia sprinting away!

Location: Mora, Sweden site of the longest ski race in the World

Race: Classic 20km/30km Mass Start

Weather: Undecided…mix of rain, clouds, snow, dippin’ dots, slush, ice and powder

Highlights: Variable conditions made for a completely unpredictable day of racing. Ben and Paddy started the day off well, taking charge in the long race. Unfortunately a fellow racer collided with Ben on the first lap and he was forced to drop out after emptying the contents of his stomach in pain. Paddy ventured on alone, braving the long distance suffer fest and ultimately skiing to a solid 10th place overall (and 9th American!). The women followed and began one of the longest 20kms any of them can remember. Katherine fought for the win the entire race and left most of her competition in the snowdust before finishing 2nd overall. Annie and Erika worked to catch the leaders for most of the race and plowed through a mix of snow, slush and ice in an epic test of their mental fortitude. Both were pretty happy to cross the finish line in 6th and 7th (5th and 6th Americans!). Meanwhile Julia took on the best juniors in North America and showed them who’s boss by completely breaking the field and winning the 7.5 km mass start race by over 30 seconds!

Finished the long race!
Finished the long race!
KO on the podium!
KO on the podium!
Papa Flowers ready to cheer!
Papa Flowers ready to cheer!

Location: Inside of a Snowglobe

Race: Skate sprint, qualifier only

Weather: Snow on snow on snow

Highlights: A winter storm blew into Park City right after the classic mass start races and decided to stay for a few days. Lots of fluffy white flakes made more some tricky waxing and racing conditions but also made everything look like it had been dipped in frosting- which is never a bad thing. The SMS Elite crew wrapped up the week at U.S. Nationals with a little extra fire to get us going for next weekend. Julia led the way with an 11th place and the rest of us spread back from there. On the bright side we have an ambitious evening of sledding ahead of us and plan to take full advantage of the fresh pow.

Lastly this blog wouldn’t be complete without a HUGE SHOUTOUT TO PAT as well as Caldwell Sport, the SMS crew and our entire wax team. They put in 28 hour days (I actually don’t know how they do this but its incredible to watch) to help us ski as fast as possible on race day and we wouldn’t be half the athletes we are without them. Thank you!!! Check in for updates on the races in Truckee, CA next weekend!

Lots of snow coming down!
Lots of snow coming down!
Ruka Skate sprinting!
Ruka Skate sprinting!
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