Classic distance races are on tap for the U.S. National Championships in Rumford, ME on Wednesday, after two days of rest to allow for optimal course preparation.
Volunteers, coaches, and even U.S. Ski Team member Liz Stephen worked with heavy equipment and shovels throughout Tuesday, leaving a 2.5-kilometer loop available for racing at Rumford’s Black Mountain.
Under clear skies and with temperatures cooler—in the 20’s—the action gets started with the women’s 10 k at 10 a.m. The skiing will be fast and furious from the gun—the jury elected to seed the highest-ranked athletes first, which means Stephen will be the first starter of the day.
The men go off at 12:30, led by Leif Zimmerman (BSF), Torin Koos (Methow ODT), and Noah Hoffman (USST).
Both races should be tight and exciting. On the women’s side, Stephen and her teammate Morgan Arritola—who both returned to the U.S. in late December after a fall on the World Cup—will be matched up against some strong domestic talent, including CXC’s
Jessie Diggins and APU’s Holly Brooks, who won Sunday’s classic sprint.
Fresh off the World Cup himself, Hoffman will be the man to beat in the afternoon, but he’ll also be challenged. APU has a pair of crafty vets in Lars Flora and James Southam, and Zimmermann also skied very well early this season in West Yellowstone, MT.
Over the course of the last three days, the 2.5 k loop in Rumford has been transformed from a soggy, dirty mess to a mostly-white ribbon of snow snaking through the woods, complete with two firm, icy tracks. A few dirty spots still remained, with a small amount of dirt and grass mixed in throughout.
“Considering what these guys have had to work with, it’s amazing,” said Travis Jones, the head coach of the Sun Valley Olympic Development Team. “It’s a great place to see, and you’d love to see it at its best. But I think considering the conditions, and considering the cards these guys have been dealt, they’ve done a hell of a job…It’s gonna be a ski race.”
Check out a video with the Bridger Ski Foundation’s service staff on Wednesday’s waxing challenges.
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.