Matias Saari writes for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This aritcle first appeared in Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks will get a chance to do something Mother Nature prevented in Anchorage earlier this month — stage a series of four national championship races. Not since Fairbanks hosted a World Cup in 1984 have there been races as important as what Birch Hill Recreation Area will show off in late March, said John Estle, NSCF competition program director.
Details were finalized Tuesday to pick up the U.S. national championship classic technique and team sprint events that were canceled in Anchorage due to cold. Those races will precede the U.S. Distance National Championships still scheduled for March 27 and 29 at the Jim Whisenhant Trails. “It’s quite prestigious,” Estle said. “In my mind, it’s the biggest set of ski races here for 25 years.”
The schedule now will consist of classic races (5 kilometers for women and 10K for men) on March 24, the freestyle team sprint on March 25, the skiathlon/pursuit (15K women, 30K men) on March 27 and the marathon classic (30K women, 50K men) on March 29. A total of $16,800 in prize money will be awarded.
“It looks like we’re going to have a party up there,” John Farra, Nordic program director for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, said Tuesday from Park City, Utah. “I assume we’re not going to get frozen out.”
Four races, instead of two, will be an extra draw for most of the elite racers from around the country. Estle said about 150-175 competitors are hoped for, which would be a 50-skier increase from the distance nationals held at Birch Hill in 2008. Last year, the entire U.S. Ski Team, including sprinters Andy Newell and Kikkan Randall as well as distance specialist Kris Freeman, made the trip.
For skiers who opt to do all four races, the series equates to more than 90 kilometers of racing for men and more than 50K for women.
“It’s a ton of distance … (but) I’m sure some people will do them all,” Farra said. “What do you risk, being tired for April?”
Tyson Flaharty, a member of the Fairbanks Alaska Ski Team (FAST), is not intimidated by the schedule. “Oh yeah, for sure,” Flaharty said when asked if he would race all four days. Flaharty is fired up that the event is being made up, in his hometown no less. “It’s pretty sweet,” Flaharty said Tuesday night from Cable, Wisc., where he is preparing for three SuperTour races in the next five days. “It’s about the best thing that could have happened (for Alaska skiers).”
At a coaches meeting Jan. 7 in Anchorage, Farra pitched the idea of making up the races in Fairbanks at the end of the season. Racing was canceled due to sub-zero temperatures at Kincaid Park on four of six days.
“It was pretty unanimous that this was a good idea,” Farra said. For it to happen, though, the NSCF board of directors needed to approve the races. It did so on Tuesday, Estle said, after being assured that increasing its commitment would not mean losing money. “I’m thrilled about it,” Farra said. “We’re salvaging something that otherwise would have been lost.”