Ready or not, the 2013 SuperTour season is fast approaching. Here’s what you need to know about the domestic race scene this year.
At this point, we’ve pretty much said everything we can about the twelve senior ski programs in the U.S. We ran a series throughout the summer highlighting each team’s past accomplishments and goals for the future. Read back through ‘em for comprehensive rosters and standalone previews (scroll down for links). Now that it’s November, it’s time to discuss who stands a shot at beating whom.
First, there are a few unusual things about the race schedule to understand, as domestic results have an important role to play in qualifying athletes for bigger things this season. The U.S. can enter more athletes than usual in each World Cup race in Canada and can have eight athletes of each gender on its World Champs team, meaning that U.S. Ski Team (USST) members have a shot at top-end international competition this winter (those on the USST are not guaranteed World Championship slots, either).
Not surprisingly, the big focus is a combination of Canadian World Cup starts and World Championships. The overall, sprint and distance SuperTour leader(s) at the end of each competition period get World Cup start rights no matter what year it is, but being consistently fast enough to be in one of those positions is hard.
The five extra Nation’s Group spots afforded to the U.S. for each of the Quebec and Canmore World Cup races will be partially filled based on the SuperTour standings after the Bozeman races. With selection criteria theoretically reaching further into the field and requiring just two weekends of top results, the international stage suddenly seems much closer and more attainable. Who cares if SuperDario Cologna won’t be there, it’s still the World Cup!
World Championship criteria are a slightly different story, but early SuperTour races could still help decide who gets to go. The U.S. will bring up to eight men and eight women, with the first spots going to athletes who reach a certain World Cup ranking by January 14. After that, USSA goes down the National Ranking List, which is created off of competitors’ best four USSA-scored races from the twelve months prior to the selection date.
The road to Val di Fiemme, then, has already begun. The beginning of the current SuperTour and the week’s worth of racing at U.S. Nationals are further opportunities for athletes to turn in one of their four-best results and move up the ranking list.
Consequently, there’s a lot potentially riding on the SuperTour this year, despite the continued absence of leader bonuses at the end of the season. It’s not that everyone wasn’t trying hard before, but with a handful of top-level start rights on the line that only come around every so often, things could get feisty. Dreams will come true and hearts will be broken.
Now, the players: last year’s overall SuperTour leaders, Sylvan Ellefson (SSCV Team HomeGrown) and Jessie Diggins (SMS T2/USST), are already in Europe and out of the domestic picture for the next two weekends. Even so, the potential lineups for West Yellowstone and Bozeman are impressive.
For the purposes of this preview, athletes can pretty much be divided into two groups: knowns and unknowns. Every spring a handful of top-tier college skiers graduate and the domestic circuit gets an injection of new blood. Most graduates have competed in SuperTours before, but not when it’s actually been their job to ski fast.
So while the rookies aren’t joining the circuit as complete unknowns, their changed training circumstances can make the first results of the year a bit of a surprise. The 2012-2013 freshman class has generally never trained without academic demands competing for their time, and given the results they’ve been able to churn out even during school, count on them disrupting the status quo on the SuperTour this year.
Take Eric Packer, who joins the SMS T2 team from Dartmouth College and already has a handful of SuperTour and national podiums to his name. Packer was probably the most consistent college performer, sprinting and distance-wise, on the circuit last year, and could be ready for a significant step forward in his transition to full-time racing.
There’s also Reid Pletcher, who has been described as a “sprint fiend” and returns to skiing for Sun Valley this winter after graduating from CU. Remember how he won the skate sprint in West Yellowstone last year, just six months after a climbing accident landed him in the ICU? Yeah, that was ridiculous. Imagine what he might do this winter with a strong summer of training behind him.
Ryan Scott will be another sprinter to watch for. Regardless of the whole obstruction controversy, he was still in the classic finals at U.S. Nationals. At U23s he was the top American performer in the freestyle sprint. He didn’t race a whole lot after that, but his coaches at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail think he’s looking mighty fast in the run-up to the first race of the year.
In the women’s field, newcomer Sophie Caldwell (SMS T2) presents the greatest threat to the usual SuperTour standbys. Amy Glen (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) did beat her by a toe-length at the biggest college race of 2012, but the name Caldwell regularly shows up at or near the top of the results sheet week after week — whether it’s Sophie or one of her equally fast relatives.
Though they represent relatively known quantities, the more seasoned SuperTour athletes are no less intimidating for it. They’ve been around the block and they know what it takes to be at the top of the domestic field.
Central Cross Country (CXC) was indisputably the best all-around team last year, and won the National Nordic Foundation’s team trophy in a landslide to prove it. The Midwest squad has lost a few athletes and coaches to other programs since last spring, but still claims four athletes ranked in the top five on the SuperTour in 2012: Jennie Bender, Karl Nygren and Caitlin and Brian Gregg. Look out for their fire engine-red spandex when the gun goes off.
The next team to mention is undoubtedly Alaska Pacific University (APU). Sadie and Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST) are both racing stateside this November, and present a formidable threat when united with the rest of their teammates. Kate Fitzgerald, Becca Rorabough, Rosie Brennan, Reese Hanneman, Peter Kling — the Alaskans have a lot of returning talent. Thanks to Eagle Glacier, they’ll also be stepping onto their skis with more on-snow hours under their belts than anyone else.
From the Bridger Ski Foundation, Torin Koos and Leif Zimmerman present solid all-around threats. Zimmerman has traditionally pulled off a distance win at West Yellowstone every year, and Koos will no doubt be looking for redemption for getting erased from the results the last time he raced in the U.S. When we spoke with him in June, Koos said that every day he thinks about the Canadian World Cups more than anything else.
He’s probably not the only one. Mikey Sinnott (SVSEF), after finally earning his first World Cup starts in March, will be raring to get back. With two real, actual, sprints on the schedule in the first two weeks, Sinnott should be in contention to go to Canada. His teammate Matt Gelso is another name to watch in both sprint and distance. Representing Sun Valley’s women, Chelsea Holmes is coming off a strong finish to her 2012 season, where she was fifth in the 30 k at distance nationals.
Racing for Team StrongHeart/Team Birkie, Matt Liebsch is a perennial distance challenger. He took second in the 15 k freestyle at nationals and usually puts up solid distance results at the opening races. This year he’s been training in West Yellowstone longer than anyone getting ready to hit the ground running on November 23.
In the east, the CGRP has another impressive lineup. Tim Reynolds and Pat O’Brien both finished the season strong at distance nationals and will want to continue the trajectory in 2013. To the north, Maine Winter Sports Center’s Welly Ramsey has been logging the hours with Kris Freeman and apparently been able to keep up at times, which can only be good for his skiing. Skyler Davis will be on the domestic circuit for the first period, at least, and could be a sprint contender for SMS T2 if he’s in full form.
From Oregon, Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy) proved last year he is not to be overlooked on a sprint day. And with more of those legitimately on the SuperTour schedule this year he’ll have plenty of opportunity to contend in the heats. XC Oregon added Santi and Carolyn Ocariz to its roster this year, and returning skiers Matt Briggs and Ollie Burruss will be looking to top their career-best SuperTour finishes from last season.
That’s a lot of skiers entering the starting gate this week, and this list doesn’t even include everyone. At some level, each athlete is trying to do the same thing: ski better than they ever have before and hope that it’s enough to break through to the next level. The trouble is, they’ll have to get around each other first.
For more in-depth discussion of each team and its athletes, read FasterSkier’s features from this summer:
Alaska Pacific University | Bend Endurance Academy | Bridger Ski Foundation | Craftsbury GRP | CXC | Far West | Maine Winter Sports Center | Methow OD | SMS T2 Team | SSCV Team HomeGrown | Sun Valley SEF | XC Oregon