WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess used a strong finish to edge out two skiers from the University of Colorado in Friday’s men’s 1.5 k skate sprint in West Yellowstone, Mont., marking the first U.S. SuperTour race of the season.
The 28-year-old Blackhorse-von Jess, of the Bend Endurance Academy, took command of the lead after the final hill when the University of Colorado’s Mads Strøm made a last-ditch attempt to pass him on the outside. The 23-year-old Norwegian had been working with CU teammate and fellow countryman Rune Malo Ødegård to hold second and third position throughout the race, waiting for the opportunity to make a move on Blackhorse-von Jess. However, Strøm finished in second while Ødegård, 25, crossed the line in third.
Eric Packer of Alaska Pacific University (APU) finished fourth, 2.98 seconds after Blackhorse von-Jess. Welly Ramsey of the Maine Winter Sports Center (MWSC) finished in fifth (+3.52). Canadian Andy Shields of the Thunder Bay National Development Centre (NDC) was 36.49 seconds back in sixth place, though FasterSkier was unable to locate Shields to determine what happened on the course.
Blackhorse-von Jess was second in qualifying (after Stratton’s Ben Saxton) and made it safely through the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, though he emphasized the challenging nature of the early-season race.
“West Yellowstone’s a hard place,” he explained. “I’m tired, everybody’s tired. You know, it’s just hard being here.”
However, he said winning is a good “confirmation of fitness,” and he was happy with his strategy.
“It just became apparent to me I had the speed at the end, but to really maximize it you need to be first on the hill,” he said, “So, that’s what I did. Worked out great.”
He said being in front was especially an advantage on the rolling course, as the corners are close together and “the straight line provides no opportunity for passing.”
Only 0.9 seconds behind Blackhorse von-Jess, Strøm was disappointed to not have overcome Blackhorse-von Jess, but recognized his attempt to take the lead was too little, too late.
“He went away from the other guys and I just tried to get past him and he was faster than me,” Strøm explained.
Strøm was happy for his Colorado team, saying they generally expect to do better in distance races. Having two skiers on the podium in the sprint was well above their expectations.
Ødegård was pleased with his third-place finish, echoing Strøm in saying the race went “a lot better than expected.”
The Norwegian has suffered from injuries and illness throughout the past year, including an ankle surgery, a meniscus tear and a bout of strep throat. Despite that, he said he was better in a skate sprint than he has ever been.
Ødegård and Strøm finished seventh and fifth, respectively, after qualifying, then comfortably made it through their quarterfinal races. They ended up racing together in the first semifinal, where they skied a strategic race and helped each other maintain and finish in the first and second positions.
Despite being happy with his race, Packer was a victim of the course’s lack of passing opportunities. According to the 24-year-old Alaska native, he started out in third or fourth and never had a real chance to move forward during the race.
“The final went out pretty hard and with this course it’s really difficult to pass,” he explained.
Packer qualified in 13th, surviving a competitive quarterfinal while squeaking through the semifinal to make it to the A-final.
Finishing fifth, Ramsey was ecstatic about advancing to the A-final. The 23 year old is an accomplished distance racer, having finished eighth at last year’s 15 k at U.S. nationals, but hasn’t considered himself to be a sprinter in the past. Starting the day by qualifying in 12th, he finished just behind Blackhorse-von Jess in the men’s first quarterfinal. Then he led Blackhorse-von Jess going into the last hill during the second semifinal, before the eventual winner passed him on the closing stretch.
“I’m pretty stoked that I’m able to sprint this year,” Ramsey said, emphasizing how much technical work and “on-snow” time during the fall has helped him out.
The day started off well for Saxton, a 21-year-old U.S. Ski Team and SMST2 athlete, who was first after qualifying.
“I think the qualifier today rewarded smooth skiing and I don’t think very many people would list smooth skiing as one of my attributes thus far,” Saxton explained.
However, he fell behind Ødegård and Strøm in the semifinal and faded on the final hill, then ended up 11th overall after falling behind in the B-final. In that race, he said his right hamstring “balled right up” going into the tuck, leaving him unable “to put forward the effort” that was representative of his abilities.
Sun Valley’s Miles Havlick, who was fourth after qualifying, won the B-final, barely nudging out Brian Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) and Forrest Mahlen (Montana State University). Alaska Pacific University’s Lex Treinen was put out of the race at the start, falling immediately after the gun sounded.
Paddy Caldwell (SMST2) also suffered a race accident earlier in the day. After qualifying in 22nd, one of his poles broke at the top of the final hill during the fourth quarterfinal. Alex Schulz of Craftsbury Green Racing Project was on the inside, and as they rounded the curve Schulz’s ski and Caldwell’s pole collided.
There were certain issues on Day 1 of the event involving timing, bib numbers and placement into semifinals. Races and results were postponed, and athletes at times questioned when or if they would be racing.
SuperTour racing continues for the men on Saturday in West Yellowstone with the 15 k freestyle individual start. Snow is expected to fall throughout the day, making for interesting racing conditions.
— Lander Karath contributed reporting