Note: This article has been correct to recognize Sophie Caldwell (USST/SMST2) as the women’s qualifier winner.
CANMORE, Alberta – The 2013-14 ski season unofficially kicked off Thursday with a classic sprint on snow at Frozen Thunder in Canmore, Alberta. While a fairly low-key event overall, it served as a tune-up race for many of the skiers as they head into the World Cup races in Finland or U.S. SuperTour openers in West Yellowstone, Mont., in late November.
Racing two laps around a shortened version of the 2.2-kilometer Frozen Thunder loop, skiers completed the course in 4 to 5 minutes for the women, and roughly 30 seconds faster for the men, making for a long sprint course to start the season.
As Caitlin Gregg of the Methow Olympic Development team in Washington explained, the variety of terrain on the course, with plenty of uphills, downhills and turns, made for a quality course. However, the two-loop experience made for a unique mental challenge of staying psyched for big hills the second time around.
To deal with possible crowding issues in the qualifiers, race organizers used a unique starting strategy. After the first five skiers, they left a larger time gap than usual before starting the next of five racers to space out the field.
The field of 34 women raced first. Sophie Caldwell of the U.S. Ski Team (USST) and Stratton Mountain School T2 Team (SMST2) won qualification by just over a second, followed by Austrian Katerina Smutna and Ida Sargent (USST/Craftsbury Green Racing Project) rounding out the top three.
The men’s field was somewhat larger with 54 racers, and like last year, saw a combination of skate and classic equipment used among the top racers. Andy Newell (USST/SMST2) won the qualifier on skate skis by more than 3 seconds. SMST2 teammates Skyler Davis and Simi Hamilton (USST) followed up in second and third.
Only 16 men and 16 women moved onto the heats. As a result, many of the less sprint-endowed racers came up with alternate plans for their workout that day. Some moved on to interval sessions, while others simply decided to save up energy for Friday’s classic-distance time trial. However, many skiers were impressed with the organization of the sprint.
Sargent appreciated the trademark low-key, high-organization style of an event run at the Canmore Nordic Centre. “The race this morning was very chill but also very well organized and well run,” she said. “They did a great job keeping the schedule rolling which can be tricky with a two-lap course.”
After leading much of the A-final, Smutna ended up with the win, while the Americans showed their strength, with Sargent finishing second, Caldwell placing third and Liz Stephen (USST) in fifth. Alysson Marshall of the Canadian National Senior Development Team and Alberta World Cup Academy was the top Canadian in fourth, with Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt took sixth and 2013 World Championships team member Andrea Dupont was seventh. American Jessie Diggins (USST/SMST2) did not race due to a cold, and Canadian World Cup team member Perianne Jones did not start. Her Canmore-based teammates, Lenny Valjas and Ivan Babikov were not on the start list, and Dasha Gaiazova is in Quebec.
On the men’s side, several skiers were strong on Thursday. Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy) looked especially strong in winning the A-final by a large margin on classic skis. He was the only one of the top three on classic skis. Both Newell and Simi Hamilton used skate skis for the qualification and final to end up second and third, respectively.
Across the board, U.S. and Canadian skiers appreciated the chance to mix it up on snow before the season starts in earnest.
“It was really great to have everybody in town with the US skiers and even some Austrian skiers in the race,” Dupont said.
On the significance of an October race, Sargent said, “I was less concerned with results than trying to go hard and get out some of those racing tweaks like remembering how to warm up, test wax, and stay fueled on between sprint heats.”
Finally, as a footnote to a race well run, several teams showed off their new season’s spandex. The U.S. team showcased their new uniforms with electric blue accents for men and pink accents for the women, while Team Ninja, the band of independent skiers based out of Canmore, showed up in suits adorned with pink and white snowflakes, and ninjas.
About Katie Bono:
Katie is a Canadian contributor at FasterSkier. Hailing from Minnesota, she raced for Dartmouth College and Sun Valley before turning her energies to climbing (and becoming the fastest known woman to ascend Mt. Rainier in Washington). Now based in Canmore, Alberta, she is an athlete ambassador for Millet and works as a mountain guide in Alaska, Washington and South America.