With clear skies and decent snow conditions, organizers and skiers in Anchorage are primed to kick off the first day of racing tomorrow at the 2010 U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships. Just one thing threatens to hold them back: the temperature.
With Friday’s readings struggling to break double digits, Saturday’s National Weather Service forecast calls for highs of ten above, with overnight lows of zero to ten. That’s close the FIS legal limit of -4, but there should be just enough of a cushion to allow the freestyle sprint to go off as scheduled at 10 AM.
Saturday “looks like it’s the cold one,” USSA Nordic Director John Farra told FasterSkier. “Hopefully we can get through.”
The low temperature evokes the specter of last year’s championships, when two of the four scheduled competitions had to be cancelled due to stubbornly frigid conditions. This year, though, the forecast warms after the weekend, and the rest of the races should be able to go off without a hitch.
Groomers and volunteers have been on course all week, and the track for tomorrow’s freestyle sprint is “pretty amazing,” said Sylvan Ellefson, who skis for Fischer and Team Homegrown.
The snow on course is firm and cold, but despite the low temperatures, the waxing isn’t straightforward.
“Even though it feels cold and squeaky, there’s things that will work well that are high-fluoro,” said Roger Knight, director of team and eastern
operations for Boulder Nordic Sport. “It’s tricky.”
High-fluorocarbon waxes are typically used in warmer conditions, but Knight said that the moisture in the snow—which comes from the nearby Turnagain Arm of the Pacific Ocean—has made them useful in Anchorage.
But even more important than the wax, Knight continued, are athletes’ ski choices. Competitors tomorrow should have skis with a “fine grind and the right flex,” as well as a number of cold wax layers, he said.
As of yesterday, 268 athletes were entered in tomorrow’s sprint—the first of four races here, which represent the final opportunities for skiers to qualify for the 2010 Olympic Games in Whistler. The results will also help to determine teams for this year’s U-23 and World Junior Championships; an annual junior trip to Scandinavia; and the U.S. team for the upcoming World Cup in Canmore, Alberta.
With top U.S. sprinters Andy Newell and Torin Koos missing (Koos scratched to give himself more time at home before returning to Europe to race; Newell is competing in the Tour de Ski), the men’s race tomorrow should be competitive. Kris Freeman—who won the only sprint here last year—is the favorite, especially given his recent performance at the World Cup in Rogla, Slovenia, where he finished just two spots out of the heats.
Other men to watch are CXC’s Garrott Kuzzy, undefeated in sprint races on American soil this year, as well as fellow Middlebury alumnus Simi Hamilton, who skis for Sun Valley. APU’s Mike Hinckley, an Anchorage native, took second to Freeman in the sprint here last year.
On the women’s side, skiers will be hard-pressed to test Kikkan Randall, the silver medalist in the freestyle sprint at last year’s World Championships. Randall’s closest rival will probably be her APU teammate Holly Brooks, who has performed well at any and every distance so far this winter. Laura Valaas, Rebecca Dussault, Katie Ronsse, and Becca Rorabaugh should also be on the radar.
Check FasterSkier throughout the day tomorrow for live updates, results, and features from Anchorage.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.