AVSC has brought its biggest team ever to Nordic junior nationals. Back row: Ben Oldham, Kate Oldham, Noah Wheeless, Tiaga Moore, Anders Weiss. Front row: Elsie Weiss, Eva McDonough, Lola Villafranco, Emma Barsness, Corbin Carpenter. Not pictured: Everett Olson.

Several outstanding Roaring Fork Valley Nordic skiers have been competing this week near Lake Tahoe, in the 2020 Cross-Country Skiing Junior Nationals. The meet is underway at the Auburn Ski Club’s Training Center at Soda Springs, Calif., near Truckee.

Fourth-year Aspen Valley Ski Club Nordic Coach August Teague said before making the trip that the 11 young locals qualifying to take part in the U16, U18, and U20 races at Nationals are a record number of AVSC representatives.

Teague adds, “We set the previous AVSC record last year with eight, and to bump to 11 was an unexpected, but pleasant surprise. Obviously, we’re always trying to get as many of our athletes to this event as possible. The previous record before last year was six, set back in the ’90s.”

The first results to be highlighted came on the first day, March 9, when Colorado Rocky Mountain School senior Kate Oldham ran 3rd in the U18 5k Classic race for young women. And Kate was within the blink of an eye of an even better finish, crossing the line in 14 minutes, 28.8 seconds… only one tenth behind number 2 Emma Reeder of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, at 14:28.7.

The race was won by Nina Seeman of Vermont’s Stratton Mountain School, 30 seconds earlier at 13:58.8. AVSC’s Emma Barsness came in 53rd, CRMS student Lola Villafranco 73rd, and Eva McDonough 83rd.

Anders Weiss skied well in the men’s U18 10k Classic, running 23rd in a massive field, a shade under 2 ½ minutes behind winner Will Koch’s 25:03.4, representing Stratton. Weiss clocked a 27:30.5, and about 24 seconds later, his AVSC teammate Taiga Moore ran 37th. Everett Olson made a top 15 finish in the U20 men’s race, coming in 12th with a time of 27:14.2. And Roaring Fork student Corbin Carpenter was only a minute off the winning pace in the U16 boys’ classic, coming in 17th place at 14:38.9.

Family matters

Families are part of nationals, too. Oldham’s brother Ben, who attends the Ross Montessori School, is racing at Soda Springs, coming in 36th in the U16 boys’ 10k. So is Weiss’ younger sister Elsie. Together, they helped Aspen cement another pair of state high school ski titles just two weeks ago, on Feb. 28. Each of the Weiss siblings won the skate and classic races for their respective genders at Vail/Beaver Creek. In California, Elsie took 55th in the U16 girls’ 5k.

The fields are indeed huge – nearly 480 Nordic racers from across the U.S., in regions from the sprawling multi-state Northeast, to the Rocky Mountain district that’s only Colorado and New Mexico, to Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah making up the Intermountain, to the state of Alaska that’s a division unto itself.

Teague characterizes the competitors as being in incredible condition. There are a lot of fit people in the Valley, but here’s how he describes part of the training regimen for Kate Oldham: “Someone like Kate’s training about 650 hours a year, specifically for cross-country skiing. That means she’s spending anywhere from 12 to 20 hours a week training. That doesn’t include the recovery, and the stretching, and all the other things that go into an endurance sport. Our younger athletes probably spend about two-thirds of that amount of time training.”

He adds that some of the year-round training that’s hard work does actually sound like fun being had by this group of very active young people.

“We say, ‘skiers are made in the summer,’ because most of their training volume occurs then. That’s when we’re running, biking, roller skiing, swimming, and working in the gym. We try to get on the snow at least once in the summer, whether it’s going someplace like Bend, Ore. that gets enough snowfall, or to the southern hemisphere. We took Kate to Australia a few years ago, to get her on snow. Some teams will go to the glaciers of Alaska, Canada, or other places. We just try to base that on where the best conditions are in a given year to give them that opportunity.”

All that rigor certainly pays off for the local racers. Teague says, “The athletes qualify for this event in the Rocky Mountain Division. Then we bring the top 25 male and female competitors to the Junior Nationals to compete against their peers, and it’s limited to the top 25 from in our case, the two states. So you have all the best skiers, and limited field sizes. They’ve spent not just hours training, but also in the races, qualifying to get here. So by the time the meet starts, it really is filled with the best of the best from around the country.”

Next up for the racers on March 11 was a skate sprint competition, a short freestyle race. It went 1.1k, starting with a qualifier, then into heats like an alpine skiercross or boardercross, and even though there’s not supposed to be contact in the heats, you can imagine it got a little crowded in there.

More training and awards are up on Thursday, March 12. Then Friday the 13th, there are mass-start freestyle races going 5, 10, and 15 kilometers. The nationals conclude March 14 with a 3x3k relay race.

How does Coach Teague think the Roaring Fork Valley locals will fare in the events that are yet to be skied?

“Obviously, the athletes we’ve qualified to be here are the best of Colorado, and Colorado is competitive in skiing. We know that. Kate is certainly toward the top of that list in the country for her age group, so we look forward to seeing what else she can do in the upcoming championships.”

He continued: “Then we also have a couple ‘sleepers,’ whom we’ve seen really good indicators from in training coming into Nationals, so we’re hopeful that they can continue on that trajectory and have positive results the next few days.”

Teague adds if you want to keep up with a favorite local racer through the rest of the meet, the finishes get posted at my.raceresult.com.