FAIRBANKS, Alaska – “It’s important for our best skiers to learn formats they will encounter on the circuit later,” said race director John Estle, explaining why the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks (NSCF) is putting on a mini tour to open the 2010-2011 race season.
“We’ve always been early adopters of race formats,” Estle said. The former U.S. Ski Team head coach notes that Fairbanks hosted sprints and continuous pursuit races almost as soon as they were officially on the International Ski Federation’s schedule.
Estle considers the Fairbanks mini tour to be a part of the development of local athletes, broadening their competitive experience and teaching them how to approach multi-day events. A tour requires skiers to think about the racing on multiple levels.
“First, you have to be fit enough to race three days in a row. You have to figure out how much the first day is going to take out of you for the third day,” Estle explained.
Then there is the overall strategy.
“You develop a pacing strategy depending on your strengths and weaknesses as a skier. Are you better at sprint or distance events? Are you better at skate or classic? Do you excel in flatter or hillier terrain? You have to maximize your ability to capitalize on your strengths and look at what you lose in the weaker areas,” said Estle.
In short, a mini tour is more than just three races back to back.
Tour adds to the traditional opener
Traditionally, the NSCF kicks off the racing season with a double-header: Saturday and Sunday distance events. This year the tradition adds a Friday night sprint, and combined, the three events make up the Goldstream Sports Mini Tour de Ski/Fairbanks. The mini tour opens on November 19 with the night sprint, and the results from Friday determine the start order for Saturday’s distance race. The overall results from Saturday will dictate the start order for Sunday’s final race.
Estle expects a large turnout, both in terms of racers and spectators. The Saturday event serves as the season opener for the youth racing season and typically draws several hundred young athletes, while the Sunday event is the first community race of the season. All of the events are scored as USSA National Ranking List (NRL) races.
“We added the NRL status to give skiers a chance to get national points before the season really gets started,” Estle said, noting that it is entirely possible to race only one or two of the events without having to commit to the entire tour schedule.
Estle knows the tour will attract ringers at several levels, from juniors to elite.
For the collegiate skiers, the mini tour is a part of the Alaska rivalry between University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). UAF fields both Erik Soderstrom, who won the sprint at the U.S. National Championships in Anchorage last winter, and Tyler Kornfield, who was second at those sprints, but won the U.S. title because Soderstrom is from Sweden and therefore ineligible. David Norris from UAF was among the top racers at the U.S. Nationals 30 k, and will also contest the tour.
UAA always has a strong squad, and Alaska Pacific University will also send some skiers to Fairbanks, although their fastest crew will be headed to West Yellowstone, Estle said, adding that some of the top regional juniors will also join the tour. Both local clubs Fairbanks Cross-Country (FXC) and Fairbanks Alaska Ski Team (FAST) will field their top racers, and Alaska Winterstars and Alaska Nordic Racing from Anchorage are coming to town with their squads.
Estle, who created the event and designed the race schedule, is excited about watching the mini tour.
“I think it should be really fun to watch. I’ve never watched a multiday tour in person,” Estle said, adding that Birch Hill is a great venue for spectators.
“We will be able to see a bunch of the race from the stadium area.”
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.