BOZEMAN, Mont. — Mats Resaland, a twenty-two year old Norwegian competing in his first year at the University of New Mexico, won the 15 k mass start classic at Bohart Ranch on Sunday. With everybody focused on turning in one last distance race to try to qualify for the Canmore World Cup, a winner from outside the usual group of SuperTour contenders was just about the last thing anybody expected. But, that’s ski racing. Expect to be surprised.
Most of the top five finishers were all somewhat unusual. Rune Oedegaard (University of Colarado), another Norwegian, was second. Mike Sinnott (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation) was the first American to finish with a third-place showing, seven seconds behind Resaland. The next two skiers to come through were both college athletes: David Norris (Montana State University) and Miles Havlick (University of Utah). Erik Bjornsen, the most consistent performer in Bozeman thus far, was back in sixth (+0:36).
Though his victory was ultimately unexpected, Resaland made his presence known once the race got underway. A seven-man pack soon separated itself on the four-lap course, and every step of the way Resaland was right there at the front while the lead intermittently changed hands. When Havlick was in front, Resaland was there. When Norris tried to break away, Resaland was right behind him. When Sinnott took the lead, Resaland matched him stride for stride in the neighboring lane.
The downhills were what truly made the difference in the end for the Norwegian. Every time the pack moved with gravity, Resaland’s skis proved much quicker than anyone else’s.
“I tried to be the first into the bottom of the hill because I had so much better glide than the others,” Resaland said afterwards.
His competitors noticed. “He was really fast on the downhill,” Oedegaard said, who was leading the final group of four leaders when Reseland blew by them all.
“He took off on the downhill and then we were all chasing him,” Norris agreed.
The conditions on Sunday morning were hairy, as temperatures have stayed well above freezing all week and it rained on Friday. The men started at 10:00 am after the women had already skied around the course three times, and consequently the snow was choppy and icy. The tracks were indiscernible from the rest of the trail in some places.
When asked, athletes thought the trail cover was as good as it could be given the limited amount of snow Bohart had to work with, but the conditions visibly made hard parts of the course more challenging. A wall of an uphill dominated the profile, for example, and leaders were only able to keep from slipping on it with quick, deliberate movements.
In the end, though, everyone had the same conditions to work with. Resaland and Oedegaard just skied a better race on it than anyone else.
“I thought I could have won, but it was a good race,” Sinnott concluded, who spent a good amount of the race leading the front pack.
Norris, whose stint in the leader’s position came before Sinnott’s, had tried to break the pack early.
“I just wanted to make it a hard race and a good workout, and not make it get down to a sprint at the finish,” Norris said. In the end, though, he felt tired from the three races in four days.
With two foreigners in the first two positions and few of the usual contenders in the top six, there was a disconnect between the race narrative and the Canmore qualifying storyline at the end of the day. The Norwegians weren’t fighting for World Cup start rights like the rest of the field was — Oedegaard described the Bozeman races as “mostly training.” Sinnott and Norris each had been fighting to win, and said as much, but after the race both were focused on the prospect of racing in Canada instead of the loss.
A trip to Canmore is all but a lock for Sinnott, as he was third in West Yellowstone and the first American on Sunday. Matt Liebsch (Borton Volvo XC United) and Matt Gelso (SVSEF), who finished ahead of Sinnott last weekend, were both off the pace on Sunday and finished 14th and ninth, respectively. (Liebsch fell and broke his first of four poles out of the start.)
“I was hoping to win, but it was a good race,” Sinnott said. “It will be awesome to race in Canmore. I’ve raced those courses before and that 15 k mass start will be really fun to be a part of.”
Norris, likewise, hoped that being the second American on Sunday and seventh in West Yellowstone would send him to Canada.
“Hopefully it’s good enough. All season I’ve wanted to go to Canmore,” he said.
The U.S. Ski Team will make its final, official World Cup team selection for Canmore by December 3.
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Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.