WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — It was the type of day every alpine enthusiast dreams about: fresh powder snow that keeps falling down.
For cross-country skiers gearing up to race the first classic distance races of the SuperTour season, it was the type of day that creates questions: more or less kick? Chance a step out of the track or stay settled in? To double pole or not to double pole?
With nearly an inch of fresh snow covering much of the 5-kilometer race loop by the time the men’s field hit the Rendezvous Ski Trails on Sunday for the 15 k classic event, a few skiers opted to forego kick wax altogether and pole through the powder.
Scott Patterson of Alaska Pacific University (APU) was one skier who saw kick wax as costing him seconds. The 28th skier out of the start, Patterson proved his double-pole strength, catching his APU teammate Logan Hanneman — who started 30 seconds ahead of him — within the first 2 k.
However, by the second time Patterson reached the high point of the course, another blue-suited skier was closing in. Matt Gelso, of the Sun Valley Ski Education (SVSEF) Gold Team, who started 30 seconds after Patterson, was now striding within 15 meters of the APU skier.
“I didn’t know how the [other] double polers were doing because the only double poler I saw was Scott,” Gelso, 28, told FasterSkier after. “Anybody could have a bad day at anytime, so I was like ‘OK, maybe Scott is having a bad day or maybe double pole wasn’t the right call.”
Still a fairly early starter in the field, Gelso didn’t see the gap he was closing between himself and Patterson as a sign of securing the win. He continued to drive through the blowing snow, even after passing by Patterson.
“It was hell of a day out there,” Gelso added. “On that third lap I came through … passed a few people and then it was like the track was blown in and it looked like no one had skied by in like 15 minutes.”
Completing his third and final 5 k lap, Gelso finished in a time of 42:57, taking the top spot with a little over half the men’s field still on course. As each consecutive skier completed the 15 k, Gelso’s only challenger came from Ben Lustgarten, of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP), who finished 32.2 seconds back in second.
“Baring being super blown out from yesterday[’s sprint], I was expecting to be up there, in the top fighting for it with some guys because I knew my fitness was good,” said Gelso, who also won Saturday’s 1.3 k freestyle sprint. “But … I didn’t realize I had a lead like that.”
With his back-to-back wins at this weekend’s SuperTour opener, Gelso sees his season and training as heading in the right direction.
“I always want to be up there, you don’t train to come in 10th,” Gelso said. “World Cup starts are always a goal …i t’s [also] a World Championship year. … I am sure not the only person out here whose overarching goal for the season is to go to world champs. I went two years ago and it would be pretty cool to go again.”
In second place on Sunday, Lustgarten also hopes to earn World Cup starts. With that in mind, he will focus in on the upcoming Canadian NorAm/SuperTour races taking place this upcoming weekend at the Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre in British Columbia.
“As of now Matt has a great start to the season, so I will need a great few races next weekend to make Period 2,” Lustgarten wrote in an email. “If not I always have Nationals to do well at.”
Rounding out the men’s podium in third was Patterson, 1:16.8 seconds back from Gelso.
“The third time I double poled up Telemark Hill I looked over at some of the guys striding and thought I wouldn’t have minded trading with them,” Patterson reflected. “But you know, whatever you decide, you have to go to the start line and have the confidence you made the right choice.”
About two seconds behind Patterson, Kyle Bratrud (CXC Team) placed fourth (+1:18.9), and Kris Freeman (Team Freebird) finished fifth (+1:40.2). Completing the top 10, David Norris (APU) placed sixth, Brian Gregg (Team Gregg) was seventh, Ben Saxton (SMST2) eighth, Tyler Kornfield (APU) ninth, and Rogan Brown (SVSEF) 10th.
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Guiney Gets the Ball ‘Rolling’ with First SuperTour Win
In the women’s 10 k classic on Sunday, Craftsbury’s Liz Guiney (CGRP) took first, claiming her first ever SuperTour victory.
Guiney covered the two-lap 10 k in a time of 33:52.8, besting second-place finisher Katharine Ogden, of the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) and U.S. Ski Team D-team, by 7.7 seconds.
“Obviously there’s an opportunity to lead the SuperTour,” the 25-year-old Guiney told FasterSkier on Sunday. “[But] I’m kind of just taking it one race at a time … I’m happy with where my fitness is right now and am just going see if I can keep it rolling.”
Ogden, who recently turned 19, saw her performance as a sign of improvement in her classic skiing.
“I struggled a little bit with classic racing last year so this is a really encouraging result for me,” Ogden said after. “I actually love West Yellowstone … I was petty excited, psyched [when the races were moved here].”
The second Craftsbury GRP racer on the podium, Kaitlynn Miller placed third, finishing 28.4 seconds behind Guiney. While many racers may not have been rejoicing over Sunday’s snowy conditions, Miller explained that a 10 k classic individual race in fresh powder primed her performance.
“This is kind of my favorite race format and favorite race conditions,” Miller said after.
Miller, who started 30 seconds behind Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg), had caught Gregg by the start of the second lap, and the two skied together for the rest of the race.
“Honestly, I didn’t get a single split during the whole race,” Miller said. “I heard like, Craftsbury’s doing really well and some enthusiastic cheering so I figured things were going well, but mostly I was just out there going for it and having fun.”
Gregg finished fifth, 1:01.1 behind Guiney and 32.7 seconds behind Miller. Saturday’s skate sprint winner, Jennie Bender placed fourth, 42.4 seconds out of first. Rounding out the top 10, Petra Hyncicova of the University of Colorado-Boulder (CU) placed sixth, Merete Myrseth (University of Utah) was seventh, Christina Rolandsen (CU) eighth, Erika Flowers (SMST2) ninth, and Guro Jordheim (Utah) 10th.
With her first SuperTour win packed away, Guiney is excited to get the rest of the season ‘rolling’, especially the upcoming U.S. nationals, which will be held in Park City, Utah, from Jan. 7 to Jan. 12, 2017.
“Soldier Hollow is kind of my home course, having grown up in Park City,” Guiney said. So I’m excited to race in front of my family and friends and hopefully have some fast races.”
— Ian Tovell and Jason Albert contributed