Notes and Quotes: West Yellowstone Classic Edition

FasterSkierNovember 27, 2011

The final West Yellowstone SuperTour race has come and gone. The industry vendors are packed up and ready to head out, and there is a blue grass band playing at the Holiday Inn—it is time to bring the 2011 Yellowstone Ski Festival to a close.

Today’s classic race was just about perfect—rock solid track, great kick, and blue skies.

One of the high points had to be Nordic Combined skier Brett Denney, who borrowed demo skis and boots from Madshus and headed out for the first classic race of his life. Denney is no slouch in a cross-country race, a fact demonstrated by his 7th place finish in Friday’s 15km skate race.

FasterSkier grabbed Denney for a quick video interview has he waited, and waited, and waited for his start. With no cross-country point profile, he was relegated to bib 270 and one of the last start positions.

Denney finished 96th in the field of 130, 6:10 behind winner Graeme Killick.

At the other end of the results sheet, Reid Pletcher followed up a victory in the skate sprint with a 22nd in today’s classic. Pletcher has made a remarkable comeback from a life-threatening head injury suffered in the spring.

Pletcher hammering out the classic.

After a performance the left him hacking and wheezing in the finish pen (though still able to congratulate fellow skiers between rasping heaves) Pletcher took a few minutes to chat with FasterSkier about his race and his impressive comeback.

Notable in this year’s SuperTour field is a distinct lack of masters (where have you gone Rob Bradlee?). But the elder statesmen of the sport made themselves known in speed if not numbers.

An ancient and wizened Dave Chamberlain (he is all of 36 at this point!) skied to 23rd today after spending the week, and the morning, working as a service technician for Boulder Nordic Sport. The old man clearly has something left, taking the master’s title over Olympian Torin Koos. Koos at a still-spritely 31 was 26th 3.7 seconds down on Chamberlain.

Koos crosses the line as the second master to Dave Chamberlain.

And third in the men’s masters competition? Rune Harkestad of the Kongsberger Ski Club at age 47 was 104th. The wooden medal goes to Rik Eckert of Truckee who did some junior skier a favor by taking the last spot in the race.

Good on these two for mixing it up with the kids.

In a reversal of roles, the women’s master field was deeper and stronger than the men’s.

Caitlin Gregg led the way, representing geriatrics everywhere with a fine 6th place performance. Gregg, at 31 likely has a few more years of racing left in her before retiring to Florida.

She was followed in the rankings by Brandy Stewart, who at 34 years of age, finished 34th, tied to the tenth of a second with MSU’s Kate Backstrum, a mere child at 19.

The master’s award of the day has to go to Kelly Milligan of Bozeman, who at 50 finished 53rd in the elite field of 90. She can tell all those young whippersnappers she beat to “do as I say AND do as I do.”

Gemma Arro rounded out the women’s masters field, and like Eckert, kindly closed out the results sheet in 90th.

Based on combined placing, the old women easily defeated the old men.

Today’s course was the same 5k loop featured in the freestyle race.

Becca Rorabaugh enjoyed the hills, saying “I feel like it is because the climbs don’t feel that different from sea level. You are used to going to oxygen debt on climbs. The part where it hurts is afterward when you don’t recover. So the climbs feel pretty fine, it is the gradual parts later where you start to feel it.”

Bender enoying the tracks just fine here. She finished an impressive 3rd.

A native Alaskan, Rorabuagh was also happy to wake up to frigid temperatures.

“I was pretty darn excited when it was really cold this morning,” Rorabuagh said. “I knew there here was gonna be some firm tracks and good classic Alaska skiing so I was pretty excited to go do that.”

Third place finisher Jennie Bender noted that the snow outside the tracks was faster today. She also pointed out that there was no best line track—with multiple loops for the men, and lots of starters, there were parallel tracks around the entire 5k.

Nicole DeYong skied for a full hour before the race to get her body well warmed up in the cold temperatures. It clearly worked as DeYong was fourth, and at 29, just missed taking the coveted master’s title. Maybe next year.

Second place finisher Kate Fitzgerald keeps saying she prefers longer races, but with a fifth and a third in the two sprints, and a second today, her story is losing credibility.

She did say that she had raced a few 5ks during the early season in Alaska and is feeling more at home with the distance.

This is a far cry from winner Jessie Diggins, who pointed out after the skate race, that she is not so long out of high school “where all we race is 5ks.”

Diggins is working hard at learning to pace the longer races, while Fitzgerald said after the sprints that she (Fitzgerald) needs to just throw down from the gun.

Chisa Obayashi of Japan was a late scratch from the classic race, but finished a solid 15th in the freestyle. Her distinctive purple patterned suit added a nice splash of color to the red, black and blue that currently dominate the circuit.

Perfectly purple - Obayashi in the skate race.

Speaking of suits, Harvard University, alma mater of FasterSkier Associate Editor Audrey Mangan, represented in the usual “street-map-of-Boston” attire.  Audrey seems to think this outfit is the definition of cool. Given some of the other choices out there, who are we to argue.

Fashion aside, Tanner Wiegand placed a very respectable 56th. Remember these guys either don’t ski during the winter, or partake of the one-kilometer loop that is the Weston Ski Track in a low-snow year.

38 men and 35 women scored SuperTour points in the first four races. Points are awarded to the top-20 in a World Cup style, though the winner gets 30, not 100. Second takes home 25 points, third 21, fourth 18, fifth 16, and then on down to 1 point for 20th place.

Tara Geraghty-Moats had an impressive iron-woman streak going. She raced both sprints on Wednesday (and finished in the points), followed immediately by the biathlon competition just a few hours later.

She strapped the boards back on for the 10k skate, but for some reason opted to skip the classic race. Five races in three days at altitude isn’t too much is it?

How cool is it the some of the 75,000 Minnesota high school skiers volunteer for the SuperTour races?

Big Sam Tarling broke a pole in the race. As he measures in at a hair over 7′ (or so it seems) his early replacement was too short. He got another one coming into the stadium for the lap. Peter Kling appeared ready to plow right through the coach engaged in the handoff—and justifiedly so as Kling definitely held right-of-way.

Tarling reaches for a pole and Kling charges onward.

Santi Ocariz also broke a pole and received a new one from FasterSkier’s Matt Voisin, who clearly violated journalistic impartiality. We would have hoped that the pole would have powered Ocariz to at least a top-5, but as he ended up 16th, we will have to rethink the whole “Faster”Skier thing. Our gear is not touched by magic.

The Magnificent Mustache could not repeat. Leif Zimmermann followed up his victory in the 15km freestyle with a perfectly respectable tenth today. While our friends at Johnny Klister felt otherwise, we believe Zimmermann deserves the highest honors for his facial hair.

Zimmermann, moustache and all, finishes up the 10k classic.

And what does the future hold?

APU will hit Bozeman and SilverStar, but then head home to prepare for Nationals. With several highly competitive Besh Cup races scheduled for December, they will have good racing opportunities there.

Sun Valley is on a similar schedule. In fact many of the American teams found that racing through the Rossland NorAms was too much last year with Nationals just a few weeks down the road—along with the accompanying trip across the country.

Of course all this depends on there being enough snow in Bozeman to hold the races. Conditions are currently considered iffy at best.


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