ROSSLAND, British Columbia — There had been a few slips and trips and a couple of wrong turns along the way, but as competition drew to a close on Sunday, race organizers were pretty content.
Crashes like the one that nearly took out every man in the fourth quarterfinal heat, and course confusion, which happened to at least two racers in the mass start, were not all that uncommon, said Rossland NorAm Chief of Competition Ian Sibbald.
“There’s always some sort of an incident at a race at this level,” Sibbald said. “We have processes in place to deal with it, and we do it the best of our ability with the information we can gather.”
According to him, Sunday’s two cases involving wrong turns at the lap/finish signs were straightforward. Both racers disadvantaged themselves, Sibbald said, including mass-start winner Jessie Diggins (CXC), who took the finish lane instead of the lap lane after her first loop, and Jesse Cockney (AWCA), who missed the finish turn in the men’s race.
For five to 10 minutes, a three-man jury of Sibbald, technical delegate Ken Hewitt and the assistant technical delegate Mike Edwards met to discuss the infractions: both failed to ski the marked course. It wasn’t too difficult to determine that neither Diggins nor Cockney gained an advantage.
Diggins skied up a footprint-laden path to get back on course, and Cockney turned around.
“If there was advantage gained, if (Diggins had) skied a shorter route, that would have been a totally different discussion,” Sibbald said.
But it wasn’t. Diggins secured her fourth straight victory in as many NorAm races this season, and Cockney placed 10th on Sunday after vying for sixth. While the jury made a note of each sanction, they wouldn’t impact either racer in the future, Hewitt said.
“A written warning stays on their record, it’s like a yellow card in soccer. (If you) get a second one, you’re disqualified,” Sibbald said, pointing out that neither Diggins nor Cockney received a written warning.
“So if you get a written warning in this and then another one for obstruction in a future event, that would be a DSQ,” Sibbald added. “We didn’t think it was worth that.”
About six jury members were on course Sunday on the 1.4 and 1.6 k loops for the women’s and men’s respective sprints. Early in the men’s heats, it appeared they would need as many watchful eyes as possible.
Karl Nygren (CXC) went down in the first quarterfinal heat, but the incident appeared contact-free. Three heats later, as many as five racers crashed on a sharp downhill corner, leaving them scattered and spread out at the elimination finish.
Sibbald said a jury member saw the whole thing. They could also review video if needed.
“We’ve got all we need to make the call,” he said of the heat, in which two AWCA favorites — Phil Widmer and Matt Wylie — did not advance. “That one looked like incidental racing.”
After the last men’s quarterfinal heat, organizers ordered a two-minute break in competition for some course work. Sibbald said they wanted to cut down a little stump on the outside of a corner.
Then it was back to the races, which for the rest of Saturday’s sprints were generally drama-free.
Sunday’s mass start kicked off as planned after originally up for discussion on Friday night. Eric Bailey, head coach of Thunder Bay’s National Development Centre, said he proposed changing the 10 and 15 k freestyle races to an individual start since the course appeared too narrow for more than 50 racers at once.
Friday before the coaches’ meeting, organizers had decided. The International Ski Federation (FIS) approved Black Jack Ski Club’s homologated course last summer. Although it wasn’t groomed to the nine-meter standard because of lack of snow, it was wide enough at about six meters, Sibbald said.
They changed the men’s course slightly, eliminating a sharp turn up a narrow hill, but kept the 3.75 k lap distance. The women’s course remained unchanged at 3.3 k, and both races would start up the narrowest part of the course on Pipeline hill.
“It seemed to work out well; I didn’t hear of any significant problems,” Sibbald said. “The mass start format is exciting … I think the whole course skied well and held up to traffic, and all the racers that I’ve spoken to are very happy with it.”
As the fog began to lift Sunday afternoon with junior racers weaving around the course, Sibbald smiled. In Black Jack’s fourth year of hosting NorAms (third consecutive), the club always seemed to luck out with weather, he said.
Snow was an initial concern after the area received an adequate dumping in November followed by a three-week dry spell. On Sunday, Sibbald and Chief of Course Fred Bushell estimated they had about 50 centimeters, about 20 inches. It snowed about 5 centimeters (2 inches) a few days before the race.
Bushell said he was pleased with how well the course held up.
“Overnight it was a little colder perhaps and it just made the difference (Sunday),” he said, acknowledging that it’s always a challenging to keep a course in good shape following several rounds of sprints.
The grooming crew also worked in the middle of the night, Bushell said.
“For the amount of snow we’ve got, we’ve got pretty good coverage,” Sibbald said. “With early season races, I worry until we have enough snow that I’m sure it’s going to be OK and then I can quit worrying about that.”
About 120 volunteers helped operations runs smoothly, Sibbald said. Cross Country Canada delegate James Cunningham said the crew’s experience was a major factor.
“These guys have run races for quite a few years,” Cunningham said. “The races seem pretty straightforward.”
He was also pleased with the racers themselves.
“We had some new guys winning the races this week, which was good to see,” Cunningham said. “The next set of races is at Whistler Olympic Park right after Christmas so that’ll be a good gap for everyone.”
From Jan. 12-14, the NorAm World Juniors/U23 Trials will take place at Whistler in Callaghan Valley, British Columbia.
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.