ASPEN, Colo. — Morgan Arritola (SVSEF) was officially back to full form on Sunday at the Owl Creek Chase. After appendicitis forced her to skip U.S. Nationals and subsequent SuperTours, she won the 21 k point-to-point mass start freestyle by nearly four minutes over Lenka Palanova (BNJRT). Chelsea Holmes (SVSEF) finished third (+4:48.6).
“This was my kind of course: hard, uphill,” said Arritola. “I just went out as hard as I could—that’s kind of how I race—and it worked out today.”
After taking about three weeks to ramp her training back up after surgery, Arritola returned to racing last weekend at the Boulder Mountain Tour in Sun Valley, Idaho, where she finished a close second to Rebecca Dussault.
Nothing held her back at in Aspen, where the race started on the Snowmass Club Golf Course and headed east towards the nordic center at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. Many of her competitors had done the classic races the day before, but Arritola was skiing fresh.
The sky remained cloudy throughout the women’s traverse over long and hilly terrain, across the Tiehack Bridge, and down a partial slope at Buttermilk. With only 5 k to go as they reached the Aspen trails, the sky opened up and heavy flakes began to fall.
Arritola didn’t let it bother her.
“At that point you’re just tired…whatever’s happening is happening,” she said. A comfortable four-minute lead certainly minimized the effects of a burst of snow on the outcome of the race, but made the tail end of an hour of hard skiing no more pleasant.
Arritola pulled from the front most of the way, and for the first few kilometers a group of five skiers stayed close on her tail. But the chase pack eventually dwindled to two: Palanova and Holmes.
“I was faster on the uphills, [Holmes] was way faster on the downhills, so it was back and forth,” said Palanova.
The former CU standout, now Boulder Nordic Junior Race Team coach, had skied the course once before in college, and knew what she was in for.
“It’s hard—not an easy course,” said Palanova.
Palanova passed Holmes for good as they approached the nordic center to head into the final 5 k. Holmes had managed to put a big gap on Palanova on the descent across the Buttermilk trail, but caught back up and managed to maintain the lead.
Palanova thought the squall that started for the final minutes of the race slowed her skis, but wasn’t impossible.
“I think we finished early enough that it wasn’t too bad,” she said.
Like Arritola, she enjoyed the course’s varied terrain.
“It’s really cool—not that I would look around much [during the race],” she said.
“Even if you’re tired you have downhills to rest.”
The field was spread out for the final kilometers. Holmes finished 50.4 seconds behind Palanova, and Alexa Turzian (SVSEF) took fourth 1:49.5 behind Holmes. Tammy Jacques was fifth (+6:58.0) and Rosie Brennan (APU) crossed the line in sixth (+7:12.9).
Last year, the Owl Creek Chase also served as a collegiate race, but on Sunday most RMISA collegiate skiers were in Anchorage, Alaska for the Seawolf Invitational. As a result, the fields were noticeably smaller, but the skiers who made the trip were clearly happy to have the chance to ski on such good snow.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.