If it wasn’t already official, it is now: if you want to host a major cross-country ski championship in the United States, you’d best have a contingency plan for worst-case snow scenarios. The area around Lake Tahoe, Calif., usually one of the best places to go spring skiing in the country, just recorded its driest January through March on record. Race organizers for the 2013 SuperTour Finals and Distance Nationals, faced with insufficient snowpack on the newly-homologated championships courses at Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Center this week, were recently forced to move three races to higher ground. The 30/50 k was moved to Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort and the freestyle prologue and 10/15 k classic will take place at Auburn Ski Club.
“[The original course] has melted out, particularly in the stadium and a couple key parts of the trails,” said chief of competition August Teague on Monday afternoon. “We spent two weeks really trying to find snow and really make it work and it just wasn’t… We ran out of snow where we were planning on racing, and Royal Gorge stepped up.”
The freestyle prologue, 10/15 k classic and classic sprint will now all take place at Auburn Ski Club and the hill climb will remain at Sugar Bowl Resort. The entire series was set up to be a tour that showcased ski areas in northern California, so the decision to cut Tahoe Donner from the lineup was a tough one for organizers. Homologation improvements were made to the trail system in preparation for the championships, but given the limited snow cover it was either move the races or shrink the original loop from 10 k to a few kilometers — not an ideal way to race a marathon, as athletes learned in Craftsbury, Vt., last year.
“It’s really unfortunate that we’re not able to showcase those trails, because there was a lot of time and energy spent to make sure they were championship- and Olympic-caliber courses,” Teague said.
Though the backup 10 k course at Royal Gorge is not fully homologated nor as wide as Teague would have liked, volunteers have worked overtime since the venue changes became official to make the reserve courses as good as they can be. A new section of trail was built up out of snow in the last three days to make sure the distance nationals course includes an challenging ascent of A-climb caliber.
Now that the backup plan is in place, Teague thinks Royal Gorge has plenty of snow. The biggest remaining challenge for organizers is the threat of runoff from underneath. Teague estimates the new course still has a half-meter to a meter of snowpack on north-facing aspects and predicts they’ll have to divert drainage away from the trails to minimize melting from below. Rain and temperatures in the 60s are forecast this week.
The organizing committee planned for the possibility of a low snow year, but the driest winter on record was an unusual curveball. Average snowfall over the last 30 years for Tahoe City between January an March has been about 16 inches. On Monday, the region officially tallied a whopping low point of 2.68 inches of precipitation for the same time frame.
“We had backup plans in mind, but we never thought we’d have to go to them because an average snow year would have been fine, even last year would have been fine,” Teague said. “Things are changing whether people want to admit or not.”
In the days before the race, the weather has been variable — Auburn Ski Club received a dusting of new snow on Monday morning. But despite the snow woes, the best skiers in the country have been showing up in Truckee over the past week to get ready for the upcoming series and to finish off the season. There are valuable Continental Cup points to be had in Truckee in the jockey for World Cup start rights next fall, and as long as there are races the field will show up to compete. At Teague’s last check, 175 athletes had signed up, including several international names from Sweden, Switzerland and Norway. Lisa Larsen (SWE), Maria Graefnings (SWE), Hanna Falk (SWE) and Bettina Gruber (SUI) are among the entrants, as is most of the U.S. Ski Team athletes that were racing on the World Cup all winter.
Petter Northug, Jr. (NOR), was almost among the list of entrants as well. According to Teague, the 2013 World Cup champion had been seriously considering a trip Truckee to log a high-altitude training and racing block away from the spotlight, but race obligations in Norway ultimately kept him at home.
“He really wanted to come and train at altitude, but unfortunately Norwegian championships [in Løten] was the same week and there was a lot of pressure from the Norwegians that he partake in that,” Teague said.
2013 SuperTour Finals begin on Thursday with a 3.3 k freestyle prologue at Auburn Ski Club.
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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.