HOUGHTON, MICHIGAN (December 30, 2007) — The fences are up, trails are marked and there is plenty of snow. Skiers have started arriving in Houghton, Michigan, for the 2008 U.S. Cross Country Championships.
The first of four cross country ski races kicks off New Year's Day 2008. More than 460 skiers have registered, representing close to 30 colleges, various ski clubs and the U.S. Ski Team. Several Olympic skiers will vie for the national championship, including top women's skier Kikkan Randall and top men's skier Kris Freeman, both of whom scored victories here in 2007.
In this area known for snowfalls averaging more than 250 inches per year, event organizers had to contend with low snowfalls and shoveling the entire five-kilometer course in 2007. Not so this year and skiers will face a tougher challenge.
“The low snowfall last year forced us to change some of the courses,” said Mike Abbott, chair of the organizing committee. “This year, the skiers will see much more challenging terrain, with more screaming downhills and tough climbs back to the top.”
All of the races will take place at Michigan Tech University's Nordic Training Center. The center features more than 20 kilometers of trails, The Boss Snowplow Nordic Waxing Center, three web cams (with views of both the start and finish areas), and groomed spectator paths for viewing the action at several locations.
Monday, December 31, will serve as an official training day for the first set of races, which will kick off at 9 a.m. on January 1 with the sit-ski event. Disabled skiers will double-pole their way around a 2.8 kilometer course, with the men skiing a total of 11.2 km and the women going 8.4 km.
The women's five kilometer freestyle will begin at 10:30 am. Last year's surprise winner, Idaho high-schooler Alexa Turzian — now skiing for Middlebury College — will try to defend her title. All of last year's top five will be back, including Randall and Olympic skiers Lindsey Weier-Dehlin and Taz Mannix.
The men's 10 km freestyle will begin at 1 p.m., with defending champion Kris Freeman considered a favorite to repeat. Just as with the women's freestyle, all of the top five from 2007 will be back.
The classic competition takes place on Thursday, January 3, with the sit-skiers completing 5.6 kilometers, the men skiing 15 kilometers and the women going 10 km.
Weier-Dehlin is the defending women's classic champion, but Randall was just eight seconds back last year and her Alaska Pacific University teammate Laura Valaas was a second behind her. Freeman won the men's classic last year, just ahead of Andy Newell and Chris Cook — and all three are U.S. Ski Team members.
Sprints will take place over the next three days. A first-ever sit-ski sprint will be held Friday, January 4, starting at 9 a.m. Other skiers have Friday as a training day, with their sprint races taking place on Saturday and Sunday.
Freestyle individual sprints will be held all day on Saturday, January 5, with qualification rounds kicking off at 10 a.m. Competitors ski a 1,300 meter course featuring a fast downhill with an almost-180-degree turn at the bottom.
Last year (using the classic technique), U.S. Ski Team sprint specialist Andy Newell grabbed his first national title and Kikkan Randall, a recent World Cup sprint winner, took the women's title. Newell held off two of his Olympic teammates, Torin Koos and Chris Cook. Randall, second in the classic and freestyle technique title races last year, pulled away from Valaas, with Weier-Dehlin finishing third.
The final day of racing will likely see a record number of two-person teams entered in the classic team sprint competition. Each team member alternates skiing three loops of the 1,300 meter course. In a wild finish last year, Factory Team members Lars Flora and Chad Giese won by less than one second over Newell and Koos. On the women's side, Valaas and Caitlin Compton won handily over Randall and Mannix.
For complete information, up-to-the-minute results, and links to the three web cams, go to www.seniornationals.org.