The California Gold Rush has a reputation, well-deserved for many years, to be a spring slush-fest. Many years in the late 1980’s and â€˜90’s found snow conditions by the 3rd lap of the contest to be knee-deep in creamed corn snow mush. But even though the Sierra Nevada still has an ample number of warm, late winter days, the past few years of this late-March classic has been anything but â€œspring-like,â€ with last year’s event even having had its length and course shortened because of incredibly heavy snowfall before and during the race.
This year, with the Sierra having had more than its share of rain, warmth, and low-snow conditions at times, the morning of the Gold Rush was found to be clear, cold (single-digit overnight temperatures), and basking in the accumulation of many feet of new, cold, powder snow that had fallen in the past two weeks. A brisk east wind ensured that, even with bright sunshine throughout the morning, temperatures weren’t liable to rise very quickly, making for consistent snow conditions for every race distance, from the quick 6 kilometer Junior Rush all the way through the 3-lap 50 kilometer Gold Rush.
The final event in the American Ski Marathon Series, the Gold Rush always attracts a number of national-caliber athletes, including many of the â€œfactory teamâ€ racers from across the country. Patrick Weaver of the Subaru Factory Race Team last won this event in 1999, and since then has placed 2nd (twice), 3rd, and has won the Great Ski Race on multiple occasions. He finally got back on the top of the podium at Royal Gorge with a hard-fought win on Sunday. The final outcome, however, was never assured until the final sprint, when Weaver, a former U.S. Ski Team member and currently living in Bend, Oregon, got the best of fellow Salomon team racer and local hero Tav Streit of Reno, NV by a mere 3 seconds. Benjamin Blaugrund of Boulder, Colorado, was close behind in third place, only 7 seconds back of Weaver.
The women’s 50 kilometer race was another hard-fought affair, finding 4 women jockeying for position throughout the 3 lap course. Atomic Skis team member Suzanne King (also of Bend, Oregon), the 1996 and 1997 U.S. XC champion, found herself continually trading leads with 3 other competitors, until she finally broke free at the beginning of the 3rd lap and never looked back, crushing the rest of the field by over 2 minutes on the final lap to earn herself the ounce of gold that is awarded to the winner. 2006 Olympian Rebecca Dussault (Gunnison, Colorado) of the Subaru Factory Team was the closest competitor, barely edging out Rossignol’s Christie Aschwanden to take the Silver medal. â€œSuzanne was just too strong today,â€ said Dussault. â€œShe was just gliding on her skis away from us whenever she took the lead, and we had to work hard just to keep up.â€
Also on the bill for this day’s events was the shorter Silver Rush, a 2-lap competition of 30 kilometers. Local Junior racer Alex Taylor of Truckee used a strong final kick in the stadium to barely outdistance Rossignol’s Chris Humbert of Salt Lake City. Beth Reid of Palo Alto reprised her Great Ski Race win of 2 weeks ago by taking another 30 kilometer race, easily winning this distance over Marin’s Judy Rabinowitz. The 15 kilometer Bronze Rush found another Reid, 16 year old Carl Reid taking the top honor over Truckee junior Jordan Nadell, with Master Racer Debbie Hakansson of Truckee winning her division handily over Brownsville Junior Sara Violett. Finally, in the 6 kilometer Junior Rush, 13 year old Miles Heapes of Tahoe City won for the boys, and yet another Reid family member, this time 13 year old Joanne Reid, winning the girls division.
In addition to being a major event on the Far West Nordic race schedule, the Gold Rush is also the second largest fundraiser for the Far West Junior Program, with Royal Gorge donating all of the proceeds to both Far West and Auburn Ski Club. Full results are available on the Far West Nordic website at www.farwestnordic.org.
All photos by Olof Carmel