Today’s sprint in West Yellowstone was a bit of an easy season-warmup. Reminiscent of a mid-season high school race, it was a relatively long course with 15-second individual starts and no heats.
Removed from their typical stadium setting, the start and finish areas were posted in the middle of the Volunteer Loop, a very typical heavily treed Rendezvous trail corridor. There was no staging area, no finish area, and relatively little spectator access.
Ahhh, just the way it used to be…
While the format and layout might seem a bit odd at first glance, I remember some high school races that ran through the woods and included a few spots where parents and spectators could cheer along the way, ringing cowbells and cheering for their skiers.
Now those skiers are all grown up and playing the big dogs on today’s national circuit. These days, tense jury decisions replace the tight double tracks with best-line skiing over night. Concerned parents and high school drama is replaced by real sponsors, real budgets, and coaches with careers and athletes with points to uphold. Our Olympic year is underway.
Without heats the race didn’t have much action, but the excitement lies in the results. The course was technical and hilly, and of course at considerable altitude. the fastest men finished close to four minutes, while the women finished in about 4:52.
The men started at nine using FIS seeding from fastest to slowest. Garrott Kuzzy (CXC Team Vertical Limit/US Ski Team) won 1.28 seconds in front of Sun Valley skier Simi Hamilton, and both beat the next two fastest Canadians, Sean Crooks and Drew Goldsack. Reid Pletcher, now skiing for CU, rounded out the sub-two second lead pack.
Garrott Kuzzy, now on the USST B team, was pleased with his race.
“I was a little nervous not being able to see the course beforehand. It was kind of like an alpine race, you know what the hill is like but it’s still pretty icy and sketchy.”
“They cut an awful straight line in the corners. I probably would have double poled it if I had skied it first.”
Sprint specialist Anders Haugen (APU) finished right behind Stefan Kuhn, followed by Sylvan Ellefson (Vail), and APU skiers Brent Knight and Mark Iverson.
With FIS points on the chopping block reeking of Olympic qualification, the format of the race and presence of high-scoring Candian Skiers becomes more important. Stefan Kuhn of the Canadian National Team and former USST member Chris Cook had the best FIS points in this race. Kuhn was just one second out of fifth place, and Cook finished 12th.
USSA Nordic Director John Farra explained today’s format in an email following the race.
“It is noteworthy that since the heats were not an issue, we did not need to be restricted to a typical sprint course, which allowed us the chance for a more challenging point to point course.”
The choice for the format has no doubt plenty to do with Olympics, athlete quota, and the U-S of A. A little experimentation doesn’t hurt as well.
“I was a major proponent for testing out this Qualifier only format in West since we moved away from sprinting in West last year in part due to the altitude being high, and in part due to the sprint course being relatively easy. This is a great solution in my opinion since it offers everyone a FIS and USSA scored sprint race where everyone can blow themselves out for just a few minutes, then have a full day of rest over Thanksgiving before the two distance races on Friday and Saturday. We basically get another scored effort without a big sacrifice, and in this Olympic season it should help out even more if the points end up in our favor. We invited and encouraged the Canadians to participate in our fall USSA SuperTour Races and thanks to the good snow they made the journey. Their presence raises the level of racing and improves the points base for sure.”
Canadian Dasha Gaiazova won today’s race with a commanding 5.41 second lead in front of APU’s SuperTour sprint Princess Laura Valaas, who was not available for comment. Bozeman resident, Canadian-American dual citizen, and World Championship skier Shayla Swanson finished second.
“This was a good first test,” Gaiazova said about today’s opener. “The format is a little weird. I just hope my lucky stars keep shining on me!”
APU Junior/Masters coach Holly Brooks was less than one second back in fourth, skiing impressively having just recently stepped up her training with focus and intent. This was her first sprint in five years.
Canadian skier Madeleine Williams (Alberta World Cup Academy) finished fifth in front of Ida Sargent (Craftsbury Green Racing Project), APU’s Becca Rorabaugh and Dartmouth’s Rosie Brennan.
Some of the skiers in today’s race are already writing about their experiences on their blogs, and you can also find other skier’s West Yellowstone blog postings in the “XCFeeds” section of this site.