Thanks to a huge effort from numerous local volunteers, Auburn Ski Club hosted its second Nordic race of the season Wednesday: a classic sprint.
Two days before the race, nearly 80 members of the local ski community showed up in shifts to shovel snow onto ASC's 1-kilometer sprint course loop to ensure it was in prime condition for Wednesday's event.
At race time, the course was in excellent condition for the field of 64 racers. The vast majority of Wednesday's racers were juniors (ages 19 and under), as ASC's classic sprints served as one of four regional qualifying races for the Cross Country Skiing Junior Nationals, to be held in Utah in early March.
Racers came from throughout the Truckee area, North Tahoe, Incline, South Lake Tahoe, the foothills, Mammoth, and as far away as the East Coast, Canada and Australia.
The classic sprint format begins with a “qualifier” round, in which racers head out in 20-second intervals to turn in their fastest-possible time around the loop. Once all skiers have completed the course and their times have been recorded, racers are seeded into heats based on their qualifying time. Times from the qualifier round are also those used in determining which juniors made the Junior National qualifying standards for the day.
In the heats, racers go head-to-head in groups of four to six, with the top two or three finishers from each heat moving on to the next round. The heats begin with quarterfinals, narrow down to semifinals, and then an “A” final and a “B” final to determine final placing. Those who did not qualify for the quarterfinals were placed in a consolation round to get the experience of head-to-head racing.
In the men's A final, Elias Bucher of the Far West Farm Team and UNR Winter Sports Club took top honors. He finished just in front of Matt Gelso, a former Auburn Ski Club racer and NCAA champion at the University of Colorado, who now skis out of Sun Valley and also represents the Far West Farm Team. The final podium spot went to Austin Meng, a 2011 Sugar Bowl Academy graduate who now skis for St. Lawrence University. Russell Kennedy of Canmore, Alberta, Alex Hamilton of Bates College and Truckee's Alex Taylor rounded out the A final, placing fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.
Patrick McElravey, who races for the Auburn Ski Club and North Tahoe High School, was the first finisher in the B final, securing a seventh-place finish overall. Places eight through 12, also based on the B final, were as follows: Jordan McElroy (Truckee), Sam Zabell (SBA), Alasdair Tutt (Australian Junior National Team), Joe Piercy (SBA) and Elyah Gordon (Truckee).
The women's race was a showcase of junior talent. In the A final, SBA's Katrin Larusson was first to cross the line, ahead of teammates Laurel Fiddler (2nd) and Cassidy Cichowicz (3rd). SBA's Bria Riggs finished fourth, followed by Kelsey Dion of Bates College in fifth, and Ellie Phillips of the Victoria Ski Club in sixth.
SBA's Joelle Romo won the women's B final to take seventh place overall, followed by teammates Danielle Nivinski (8th), Camille Hartley (9th), Savannah Blide (11th) and Kelly Habibi (12th). Auburn Ski Club's Raylene Chew finished 10th.
In the timed qualifying round, Kennedy led the way among men, finishing the sprint course in a time of 2:14.2. Gelso, Hamilton, Bucher and McElravey rounded out the top-five fastest times.
Among women, Riggs turned in the fastest qualifying time, at 2:45.4. She led an SBA sweep of the top five, followed by Larusson, Cichowicz, Fiddler and Romo, respectively.
In total, 27 juniors met the Far West qualifying standard for Junior Nationals in Wednesday's race. Three more qualifying races remain, and skiers must qualify in a minimum of two races: one classic and one skate. The final Junior National team will be named in late February.