DONNER SUMMIT, Calif. — It may not look much like winter, but as many of the region's top Nordic skiers can now attest, the ski racing season is here.
Despite limited snow and an all-new race format, Auburn Ski Club held the region's first Nordic race of the season on Sunday, in a scene that depicted near-perfect mid-winter conditions.
The annual Paco's Fun Race, originally scheduled to be 10 kilometers, was held as Paco's “Mini” Fun Race, thanks to Auburn Ski Club staffers and volunteers, who shoveled and packed snow last week to ensure the club's 2-kilometer loop was in prime shape for Sunday's race.
Given the limited terrain, race organizers employed a new race format, which included three 2-kilometer interval start prologues, and three separate mass-start races: 2 kilometers, 4 kilometers and 6 kilometers. Racers could participate in as many or as few of the events as desired. Most chose to race one to three of the prologues and then one of the mass-start races.
In the prologue races, prizes were awarded to racers with the fastest individual time, fastest cumulative time and most consistent time over the three laps.
Reno's Elias Bucher, a member of the Far West Farm Team and UNR Winter Sports Club, turned in both the fastest individual time around the course (2:49.9) and the fastest cumulative time for three laps (8:47.1). For the women, Truckee's Annika Taylor had the quickest lap time, at 3:27.7, while Ellie Phillips of Australia turned in the fastest cumulative time, at 12:19.1.
The afternoon brought crowd-pleasing excitement, as racers went head-to-head in three mass-start races.
In the 2-kilometer race, made up of the youngest skiers in the field, brothers Haydn and Bjorn Halvorsen of Truckee took first and second with times of 5:31.3 and 5:42.6, respectively. Kianna Mullings of Truckee finished third, and was the first female across the line, ahead of Sina Arnold of Reno.
The 4-kilometer race featured Far West's younger junior racers (ages 12-15), many of whom are priming for the Junior Nationals in March. Dylan Syben of Tahoma led from start to finish, completing the two-lap course in 7:12.3. In second and third were Sam Zabell of Truckee and Julien Bordes of Tahoe City.
Among females, Hannah Halvorsen took top honors, completing the course in 8:54.4, just over six seconds ahead of the hard-charging pair of Bria Riggs (2nd) and Skyler Flora (3rd), both of Truckee. Riggs and Flora challenged each other to the line, finishing less than one second apart.
The final race of the day was the 6-kilometer mass start. The three-lap race boasted a competitive field of Far West's older juniors (ages 16 and up), senior racers (ages 20-29) and masters (ages 30 and up). Former Far West racer Matt Gelso, who now skis out of Sun Valley, Idaho, bested the field in 10:22.4. After crossing the finish, he went on to ski two more laps, to total 10 kilometers. Bucher placed second in 10:30.2, followed by Far West junior Patrick McElravey of Tahoe City, who just edged Tav Streit of Sacramento for the final podium spot.
It was a race to the line for the women, as Taylor, who skis for the University of New Hampshire, and Truckee's Laurel Fiddler stuck together from the gun. Taylor took the win by just .7 seconds. Truckee's Beth Thomas finished third.
With the first race in the books, the region's junior skiers now look ahead to their first Junior National qualifying race, set for Wednesday, Dec. 28 at Auburn Ski Club. The race is also open to citizen racers. The Snowshoe Thompson Classic Race will follow on Jan. 1.
In the meantime, there's still skiing to be had at the club, as the 2-kilometer loop remains open for training. For more information, visit www.auburnskiclub.org.
Full results from Paco's Mini Fun Race can be found online at www.farwestnordic.org.