The 2011-2012 SuperTour kicks off Wednesday morning with a two-round, individual-start sprint in West Yellowstone, MT. Racers will first cover the 1.5 k point-to-point course on classic skis, then recover for a bit before heading out again on skate equipment. The fastest combined time of the day for men and women takes the win.
The most noticeable feature of the course is the finish, a steep climb that will leave athletes spent at the end whether they’re used to the altitude (around 6,600 ft) or not.
“The finish is good, it’ll be tough,” said Team Homegrown’s Sylvan Ellefson. “It’ll get to the nitty gritty for everybody,”
“The finish is what really stands out for the classic and skate,” agreed Jess Cockney, of the Alberta World Cup Academy. “It’s pretty crazy; it looks like 150 to 200 meters of straight uphill. As hard as you want to ski the whole part before it, it’ll be important to save a lot.”
Last year’s West Yellowstone sprint was notoriously freezing, and as the finish was several hundred meters from the start, it made for some cold racers. Wednesday’s forecast calls for temperatures at or above freezing, which will at least make for a more pleasant racing experience.
Team wax techs, on the other hand, will have their work cut out for them. Besides having to wax skis for two disciplines, they’ll need to dial in the kick wax for the classic portion, which could be on it’s way to a high of 360 F in the morning. Some technicians could be seen frantically running wax tests all morning on Tuesday, while others are simply waiting for Boulder Nordic Sport’s race service team to publish what was running well on Tuesday.
Athletes and teams are taking this week’s races with varying degrees of seriousness, depending on the relative importance of the opening SuperTour in their winter racing schedules. Bruce Cranmer, head coach at the University of Colorado Boulder, is mainly looking to get race starts for his athletes, and isn’t too concerned with where they end up on the results sheet.
“Our focus is later in season,” he said. “We want to be at our best in March [for NCAAs].”
Skiers on professional ski teams, who stand to win a $250 purse, are looking to start their SuperTour off right, but it’s early in the season for them too. “I’m a little nervous, but it’s still the first races,” said Central Cross Country’s Jennie Bender.
Despite the sheer quantity of skiers on the trails on Tuesday, not everyone is racing tomorrow. Many junior skiers are simply in Yellowstone to get on snow, and won’t be racing at all this week. Others are focusing on distance races. But the atmosphere on the trails tomorrow will no doubt be electric, as athletes have been waiting all summer and fall to put on a bib again.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.