In 6 days the Wedgewood Resort US Cross Country Ski Championships/Tour of the Golden Heart will kick off on the Jim Whisenhant Ski Trails at Birch Hill Recreation Area in Fairbanks. The Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks is ramping up to host and support the biggest week of racing in Fairbanks since the 1984 FIS Men’s World Cup race, won by Gunde Svan.
Confirmed entries to date include most of the US Ski Team, including Liz Stephen and Morgan Arritola who placed 1-2 in both national championship races here in 2008. World Championship silver medalist Kikkan Randall, who was unable to compete in last year’s Tour of the Golden Heart/Distance Championship events due to medical reasons, is entered as well as Laura Valaas, who has just swept the first two events of the Canadian Ski Championships (10Km and sprint).
On the men’s side the USST entries are highlighted by Torin Koos, who last year was the silver medalist in Fairbanks in the US Championship 50Km, bronze medalist in the pursuit/skiathlong in Fairbanks, and won the Tour of the Golden Heart Sprint earlier that week. Andrew Newell, primarily a sprinter, but also bronze medalist in the 50Km last year is also entered, as is Leif Zimmerman, the national champion in the pursuit/skiathlon in Fairbanks in 2008.
The delegation from Canada includes Ivan Babikov who won both the pursuit/skiathlon and the 50Km in Fairbanks last March, Stefan Kuhn, the newly-crowned 15Km Canadian Champion (and fourth in the sprint after qualifying first), multiple Junior World Championship medalist Alex Harvey, now in his first year as a senior, and Graham Nishikawa, originally from “just-down-the-road” Whitehorse, Yukon now skiing for the Pierre Harvey National Training Center in Quebec. There may be additional entries from Canada, as well.
The APU program will be entering more than 20 skiers. A large number of junior and senior skiers from all the major programs in Alaska are expected, as well as a healthy portion of skiers from the lower 48 are expected to create a large, competitive field.
Fairbanks has had two major snowstorms in the past two weeks and there is excellent snow cover on the Whisenhant Trails at Birch Hill. After the Nordic SKi Club of Fairbanks’ annual spring marathon, the Sonot Kkaazoot 50Km/20Km on the 14th, the NSCF grooming crew will be putting in long hours to ensure top-quality conditions for the championship week.
The first three weekday races will all be held in the evening – but not under the lights, thanks to Fairbanks’ late afternoon light. Sunset on the first day of racing will be at 8:45PM! The Yukon Title Company 5Km/10Km interval start classic championship will be the leadoff event on Tuesday, March 24. Start time is 6:00PM.
The Doyon Utilities LLC free technique team sprint championship will begin Wednesday the 25th, beginning at 5:00PM. A separate finals event will be held for junior teams that do not qualify for the senior final. The event will be the first major event on the newly-reworked sprint course at Birch Hill. The course was modified over the summer based upon feedback from some of the skiers who participated in last spring’s Tour of the Golden Heart sprint event. The 26th is a day off.
The evening of the 27th will feature the First National Bank Alaska pursuit/skiathlon championship. Women will start at 5:30PM with a 7.5Km classic + 7.5Km free; a junior women’s 7.5Km classic event will start simultaneously. The men’s event will be 15Km classic + 15Km free, with a junior men’s 7.5Km classic starting simultaneously. This event will take place on a 3.75Km classic loop and a 3.75Km skating loop.
After a day off on the 28th, the Wedgewood Resort US Ski Championships will conclude with the “marathon” events, the University of Alaska Fairbanks women’s 30Km and Men’s 50Km mass start classic races. Last year these were both extremely exciting events held on a picture-perfect day.
The early entry deadline for the week of championship racing is Friday, March 20. Entries must be received by that date. For more information, go to the event’s website, www.ussadistancenationals.org. Entry forms are downloadable. If you have further questions, e-mail email@example.com or call Chief of Competition John Estle at 907-347-1061. Race headquarters is the Wedgewood Resort, where special rates are available for visiting racers and coaches. There is a link to Wedgewood Resort’s website from the event website.