To say Sunday’s 10- and 15-kilometer classic mass start races in Bozeman, Mont., were cold would be an understatement. With the temperature hovering just above the legal racing limit of -4 degrees Fahrenheit, racers adorned their warmest gear, wore breathing masks, and covered their faces with tape in order to protect themselves from the frigid conditions.
In addition to braving subzero temperatures, racers had to ski an extremely difficult and technical course at Bohart Ranch.
“The course is tough,” said Dragan Danevski, race organizer and Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF) Head Coach, said in a press release. “But we expect athletes to prove their preparation for competing in the Olympics.”
Many did just that. In the women’s 10 k, Chelsea Holmes of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Gold Team (SVSEF) won by a commanding 43 seconds in 34:23.5. Caitlin Patterson of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP) placed second and Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) followed in third (+1:08.1).
Rounding out the top six were Kate Fitzgerald of Alaska Pacific University (APU) in fourth, Bozeman native Erika Flowers of the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team (SMST2) in fifth, and Becca Rorabaugh (APU) in sixth.
An Alaska native, Holmes had fun despite the temperatures and tried to prevent the weather from distracting her from the race.
“No one’s psyched to be so cold, but I just try to put it out of my mind and focus on what’s at hand,” she wrote in an email. “Really, it’s the coaches, techs and volunteers that bear the brunt of the cold with all that standing around!”
Sunday’s SuperTour race came after Saturday’s classic sprint was first delayed, then canceled due to temperatures between -10 and -20 Fahrenheit. Organizers decided to push Sunday’s distance races back by three hours and were prepared to shorten them in case of even colder temperatures. Fortunately, Mother Nature complied.
Best known as a distance skier, Holmes wrote that she had looked forward to the classic sprint and was disappointed that it had been canceled. However, with a SuperTour win under her belt, she’s off to a good start this season.
The men’s 15 k was much tighter, with Russian Dmitriy Ozerskiy of Central Cross Country (CXC) edging out Miles Havlick (SVSEF) by 1.5 seconds for the win in 44:47.7.
lacing third through sixth were Patrick Johnson (Far West), Matt Liebsch (XC United/Team StrongHeart), Brian Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus), and Reese Hanneman (APU), respectively.
Gregg and Liebsch competed in the Bozeman SuperTour after going 1-2 in the Canadian NorAm at Sovereign Lake, B.C., on Saturday. They were able to make it to Bozeman via chartered plane that was funded by donations.
In an email, Hanneman wrote that BSF did an “incredible job” with Sunday’s races and was impressed with the high quality of the tracks and course. He felt the weather was bearable, but “probably on the lower limit of what was reasonable.”
For some, the racing in the cold wasn’t worth the risk. Annie Pokorny (SMST2) decided to sit forgo the race after having trouble breathing earlier in the week.
“During my warmup, I decided to save my lungs for the next few weeks of training,” she wrote. “Even at a legal temperature, it wasn’t safe for me, so I’m happy with that decision.” She wasn’t the only one, as roughly 20 racers opted not to start. Seventeen senior women completed the 10 k, and 33 senior men raced the 15 k. US Ski Team member Erik Bjornsen (APU) did not start.
The next round of SuperTour races will be at Solder Hollow in Midway, Utah, as part of the U.S. Cross Country Championships from Jan. 4 through 10.
— Seth Adams contributed reporting