QUEBEC CITY – There were a lot of North Americans milling around the downtown World Cup sprint venue this weekend, but the ones inside of the fence were doing the most work.
That’s not to say cheering doesn’t take energy, too. It just taxes different muscles.
Either way, many racers found the support of thousands of spectators invaluable during the 1.6-kilometer individual sprint on Saturday – even if they didn’t make the top 30 to qualify.
“It was a tunnel of noise,” said Patrick O’Brien of Vermont’s Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP) after placing 53rd in the prelim. “The closest thing I can think of for me was Dartmouth Carnival at home times one hundred. Everywhere out there people were screaming your name and that was just awesome to have everyone come out. It is good for nordic skiing in general. I think everyone would say that this event was a huge success.”
That positive feeling was echoed by most competitors regardless of their results.
“I can’t get over how awesome the crowd is,” said Sylvan Ellefson (Ski & Snowboard Club Vail/Team HomeGrown), after placing 57th. “The Bates [College] crew being out here again, my alma mater, that was just so loud so powerful going through there. We are in Canada, I’m from the United States, but it still feels like we are on home territory.”
Eighteen-year-old Corey Stock of the Cambridge Sports Union, who placed 47th in her first World Cup, had a feeling a lot of people would come out for the event, but she had no idea what it would be like.
“I just feel so lucky to have this be my first World Cup, a city sprint in Quebec with all these Americans cheering,” Stock said. “It was just really cool. My parents are here, my brother is here and the whole Dartmouth Ski Team is here so it is so awesome hearing them cheer on the side of the course. … I couldn’t have asked for a more exciting atmosphere.”
As for the snow conditions, many North Americans used words like “sugary,” “soft,” and “mushy” to describe them – at least for the qualifier (organizers firmed it up for the heats).
“Your tips were just cutting through mounds of sugar on all the turns so you tried to keep [them] up on top,” said Reese Hanneman of Alaska Pacific University (APU), who was 61st. “You were trying to hammer, but you’re also doing preventative damage control.”
“I’m a bigger guy, but I’m a really bigger guy,” said Skyler Davis of the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team (SMS) and U.S. Ski Team (USST) after ranking 69th. “A big guy is like 180, and 25 pounds more … With this stuff, any little movement your legs die a little bit, it was just so squirrelly.”
Any experience on similar conditions mattered. Thomsen D’Hont of the Yellowknife Ski Club placed 65th in his first World Cup because of that.
“I train in these conditions all the time in Whistler [British Columbia] so like the harder the conditions are, the better I am,” he said. “It was hard, but for sure, pretty fun … You can’t just focus on going hard, you have to focus on skiing well.”
“I definitely went harder than I ever have before,” said APU skier Lauren Fritz, who was 55th in the qualifier. “My feet and shins were pretty tense, which I don’t think helped. … But the energy, oh my God, it’s so exciting. It’s easy to go harder.”
“It was really tough; I just tried to ski as smooth as possible,” Canadian National Team member Perianne Jones said after placing 38th in her first race since tying her personal-best of 12th in a World Cup sprint in Kuusamo, Finland.
“I know the course really well, but it’s never been as mushy as this,” she said.
In his first individual World Cup, Russell Kennedy of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) placed 45th.
“I like harder conditions,” he said. “I’m a bit bigger of a guy and the soft isn’t usually good for me, but I thought I skied it good all things considered. I don’t know, it was super fun.”
Ryan Scott (SSCV/Team HomeGrown) wasn’t so comfortable on the course.
“Just because we’ve been rollerskiing so much I haven’t had a lot of on-snow time, especially soft snow, not my thing so I’ll definitely be looking for a harder track in Canmore,” Scott said.
Several skiers would remember the highlights of their weekend, which ranged.
“I was really excited to race the team sprint,” said Andrea Dupont (Rocky Mountain Racers), who ranked 48th in the individual race after placing 20th in the team sprint with Kate Brennan (AWCA).
“I hadn’t had an opportunity to do that before on a World Cup so that was really a positive experience,” Dupont added. “The weekend before we got to race with some of the Swiss girls in Canmore and they were actually the team right in front of us and we got to play cat-and-mouse with them which was a lot of fun.”
While the two hail from different teams, Dupont and Brennan were really looking forward to the Canmore World Cup at home later this week.
“There’s a lot of tactics on it and I am itching,” Dupont said. “I really, really want to make the top 30 there. This is super fun though. This is an amazing atmosphere and I hope it does something good for North American and Canadian skiing.”
“I learned a lot just skiing in the different conditions,” said Brennan, who was 54th on Saturday. “Canmore’s been rock-solid this year so we haven’t had a chance to work in slush like this or just the deep pellets. It was cool, Quebec City put on quite a show.”
“There’s a lot to take away from it,” said Jesse Cockney (AWCA), who just missed qualifying in 32nd. “I mean, just being ready for everything and just being able to go with the flow. The events are so big that things go wrong with them and you’ve got to just roll with the punches and just be relaxed, that’s the big thing.”
He’s noticed how Canada’s top national-team racers Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey usually adjust and tried to mimic them.
“They’re pros at adjusting to jet lag, traveling long days, eating weird food, sleeping in weird rooms,” Cockney said. “I’m getting to the at point but I’m not quite a professional yet. Training with them in the summer helped a lot to see how they live every day. Training is above and beyond everything else for them.”
That raises the question: what does it take to get to the next level? Holly Brooks (APU/USST), who was 36th said she didn’t have it.
“It was hard to push it so I was really hoping to come in with a better qualification than that,” Brooks said.
Ida Sargent (CGRP/USST) placed 44th after being the first starter out on the course and wasn’t satisfied, either.
“I just was, like, frantic, never found any flow out there and was just really rushed,” Sargent said. “It was tricky conditions. I couldn’t really go hard and get it going. I was struggling out there and I think skiing first I couldn’t focus. I felt like I was just being chased down.”
Simi Hamilton (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation) was another USST member who finished short of his expectations in failing to make the rounds. He placed 33rd.
“I didn’t feel very good, but I just tried to stay light on my feet and just tried to stay upright,” he said after the qualifier. “It’s still early in the season and I never historically skied that fast early on. I was able to qualify in Kuusamo last weekend which is a good sign and hopefully I’ll just keep climbing throughout the whole season.”
Phil Widmer (AWCA), who was 55th, said he felt like he skied the qualifier “reasonably well,” yet he had to reflect back and figure out where he lost time.
“I’m not sure if my body was a little bit off or I didn’t technically execute,” Widmer said. “I might have been missing a little snap, but I need to be able to ski through those sorts of efforts. You train all year for it.”
Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy), who ranked 38th, felt much differently with positive feelings throughout the day.
“This is the first time I felt good this season,” he said. “I’m a big up-and-down guy. When I’m high, I’m really jacked up. [Saturday] morning I wanted to race so everything was perfect. If I was the best in the world, that’s how I think I would feel. It just wasn’t enough today, I guess.”
Caitlin Gregg of Central Cross Country (CXC), who was 49th, reflected on her race and tried to pick up tips from others.
“It was tough to decide whether or not it was a high-tempo or a high-power day,” Gregg said. “I think somehow giving good powerful strokes, but obviously not bogging down, it’s a finessing of the ski. I could definitely tell some girls were pretty good at that.”
One of her highlights was watching Kikkan Randall, whom she placed sixth with in a team sprint at the 2010 Olympics, win the team sprint in Quebec City.
“That team is destined for big things,” she said. “That was sweet to watch.”
Personally, she said the experience was great and an affirmation that her training was working.
“This is why we do it weekend after weekend in the states to earn our berths over here,” she said. “Every time I come to these I’m reenergized for the next training or the next race cycle or whatnot. This is what you think back to when you’re training in the summer time and in the nasty fall weather. This is the best.”
“Oh my God, it’s like a dream,” said APU skier Kate Fitzgerald, who was 52nd. “Especially to watch Jessie and Kikkan win. I was like, ‘I just watched history and I got to be here in person, too.’ ”
“I went to bed last night and I was like, ‘Wow this is incredible what I’m getting to do,’ ” Kennedy said. “Especially downtown Quebec with all the spectators and stuff, it’s the first time I’ve been to a nordic race and felt like it’s a real sporting event, almost like a football game or something. It’s an unbelievable experience.”