If you can't get the snow to the athletes, then bring the athletes to the snow.
That was the philosophy behind Far West Nordic's trip to Bend, Ore., this past weekend, where juniors got the chance to train in good conditions and race against top athletes from the Pacific Northwest region.
With no skiable snow at any local Nordic areas, this trip was key in keeping the racers on par with the rest of the nation, said Ben Grasseschi, head Far West and Auburn Ski Club coach.
“We were desperate for snow,” he said. “We've got big races coming up, and the kids need to feel what it's like to be on snow consistently.”
Jeff Schloss, head Nordic coach for Sugar Bowl Academy, who co-led the trip along with Grasseschi, echoed that sentiment.
“It's important physically just to get people on snow,” Schloss said, “but even bigger is just the mental aspect of trying to keep people motivated at this time of year.”
And in that sense, the trip was ideal, he said.
“This helped the kids to remember how fun skiing is,” Schloss said. “(That will) help carry them through the rest of this drought until we get more snow.”
Typically, Far West juniors would have skied in seven to 10 races by this point in the season, Grasseschi said. But as it stands with the current conditions, most have only raced three or four times.
But even without snow, the athletes have remained focused on putting in the work they need to stay in shape, including lots of rollerskiing on the region's dry roads, as well as strength training and skiwalking. Their continued dedication through adverse conditions was evident this past weekend, as Far West skiers took the Sunnyside Pursuit races at Mt. Bachelor by storm, beating out numerous top racers from the Pacific Northwest Ski Association on their own home course.
Day one of the Sunnyside Pursuit PNSA Master's Championship and Junior National Qualifier (Saturday) was a freestyle race, with distances ranging from 3 kilometers to 10, depending on age. Among junior age class results, Far West racers won five of the six categories.
In the girls' J3 race, Auburn Ski Club's Hannah Halvorsen took top honors, completing the course in 11:42.6. ASC's Bri Parker finished 15th.
Among J3 boys, Sugar Bowl Academy's Skyler Mullings outsprinted Mt. Bachelor's Nate Hochman, to win the race by 0.3 seconds.
In the J2 boys race, Auburn Ski Club's Dylan Syben placed first, completing the 5-kilometer loop in 15:11.0. Six other Far West skiers placed in the top-15, including SBA's Sam Zabell (5th); ASC's Julien Bordes (6th); ASC's Brandon Herhusky, “racing up,” as a J3 in the J2 race (8th); and ASC's Evan Vomund of Incline Village, ASC's Aaron Deeter and SBA's Peter Carroll, who finished 13th through 15th, respectively.
In the 10-kilometer men's race, ASC's Patrick McElravey took second overall, missing out on the win by just 0.2 seconds to XC Oregon's Jason Adams. But McElravey won his age class, as the first J1 to cross the line. ASC's Jordan McElroy was fourth J1 male and fifth overall. He was followed by ASC's Alex Kopytko (8th J1), ASC's Branden Deeter (15th J1) and SBA's Joe Piercy (19th J1).
In the women's 5-kilometer race, SBA's Laurel Fiddler took top honors as she outkicked Bend's Muffy Roy to the line by a slim margin of just 0.2 seconds. Teammate Joelle Romo was the third J1 across the line, placing ninth overall. She was followed closely by SBA's Bria Riggs (11th overall, 6th J2), and ASC's Melanie Swick of Incline Village (12th overall, 1st OJ). Other Far West finishers included Presentation High School's Raylene Chew (8th J1), SBA's Danielle Nivinski (9th J2), SBA's Camille Hartley (10th J2) and SBA's Savannah Blide (14th J2).
Grasseschi said he was “very impressed with how well the kids raced,” especially considering some haven't been on snow for a few weeks.
Sunday brought day two of the Sunnyside Pursuits — a classic race — and a training day for many Far West skiers.
Just a handful of Far West juniors raced the second day, but again posted excellent results. McElroy turned in the third-fastest time of the day in the 10-kilometer classic race, to propel him to third place overall in the pursuit (which adds times from both the freestyle and classic races). He was followed closely by McElravey, who finished fourth overall. Deeter also skied a strong classic leg to propel himself to 19th place overall.
In the men's J2 race, Syben held on to his lead to win the 10-kilometer pursuit.
Those who did not race Sunday took advantage of their time on snow, completing a long classic ski workout before hitting the road for the long drive home.
Overall, Schloss said the trip was a definite morale booster. It was motivating to see that the racers are still in great shape, he said.
“The kids are definitely more motivated,” he said. “… This really fired them up.”
Going forward, Grasseschi said, “We'll keep doing the best we can with what we have,” which will include a lot more rollerskiing, the most ski-specific workout available to the team right now.
Far West Nordic is now focused on preparing for its next big trip. In two weeks, the athletes will head to Utah to race against top juniors from throughout the West, and get more time on snow in preparation for Junior Nationals in March.