Nordic ski racing in the Sierra Nevada can be a fickle sport. At times, it seems as though participation might be down among the citizen racing crowd, as evidenced by the small turnout for a few races earlier this season.
But at Monday's Sierra Skogsloppet at Tahoe Donner Cross Country, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of Nordic racing's demise are greatly exaggerated.
A whopping 184 registrants showed up on a crystal clear, beautiful morning on the tracks at TDXC, and participants were treated to a rollicking good time over a new course for this annual event.
The 15-kilometer Skogsloppet (a "race through the forest" in Swedish) is a benefit for the Truckee Nordic ski teams from Truckee High School and Alder Creek Middle School, with Tahoe Donner generously donating all the proceeds from the race.
With new management and a heightened commitment to the cross-country ski area, Tahoe Donner was eager to show off the perfectly groomed trails on the twisty, hilly race course throughout the Home Range of the Nordic Center. And with TDXC hosting most of the prestigious Super Tour Spring Series and USSA National Distance Championships this April, XC manager Sally Jones was eager to show off some of the course features planned for those events.
In the men's division, it didn't take long for a quintet of fast, young racers to gap the rest of the field. Four members of Far West Nordic's Farm Team of senior racers and one guest racer from Australia led the way, sticking close together for the first lap of the two-lap course and jumping out to a 40-second lead within the first 3 kilometers.
By the 10-kilometer mark, it was Tahoe Donner's own Spencer Eusden and former UNR racer Wyatt Fereday who pulled away from the other leaders to take a 20-second lead. They built upon their lead until the final sprint, where Eusden narrowly took the win with a time of 38 minutes and 27 seconds. Another racer benefiting from a "home-court advantage," Gustavo Johnson, managed to outlast the rest of the field for third place (39:00).
In the women's field, yet another Far West Farm Teamer, Holly Whitney, easily cruised to a solo victory with a time of 45 minutes and 24 seconds, almost 40 seconds in front of her nearest competitor. Whitney, the Truckee High assistant coach and also an employee at TDXC, opened up a 15-second lead early in the race, and eventually managed a 40-second win with a time of 45 minutes and 24 seconds. Cathy Howard of Truckee was second (46:03), and Beth Thomas of Truckee easily took third place honors with a time of 46:50.
In the 7.5-kilometer junior and novice division, it was a couple of visiting Australian juniors who took the top two spots. Hugh Pollard won with a time of 23:01, Rowan Kaye was second (23:37) and Alder Creek's Zach Williams was third (24:30).
The women's race was won by San Jose skier Raylene Chew with a time of 23:01, followed by two more Australian girls, Jillian Colbourn (23:17) and Katarina Paul (23:29).
And finally, the 2-kilometer youth race was won by Mason Payne for the boys (8:17) and Alexandra Tinsley for the girls (7:51).
The race season is in full tilt this month, with Far West Nordic's Tahoe Rim Race and Tour up next on Sunday, a 26-kilometer, point-to-point event from Tahoe Cross Country up and over the mountain to Northstar Cross Country.