After a three-week break of racing after the University of New Mexico Invitational in Red River and the University of Colorado Invitational in Steamboat Springs, the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) shifted gears to sea level and the University of Alaska Invitational and this year’s RMISA Championships. The UAA Invite was originally scheduled to be held at Girdwood, but a lack of snow and an abundance of cold rain moved all four of the final RMISA races to Anchorage.
“Seven days ago at this time, we didn’t have hardly any snow on the ground and we were in the middle of three days of steady rain,” the UAA team wrote on their blog this weekend. “We’d scrapped our original plan to race our first two (of four) races on the new Girdwood racing trail because there was no snow at all in Girdwood. Not even a thin film of ice. Just brown dirt and gray rocks. Skis hardly glide on that kind of surface.”
Despite the wet weather that greeted most teams on Saturday’s arrival, races began on Monday, Feb. 23, at the Hillside Nordic trails with 5- and 10-kilometer skate races for women and men respectively. The course was fully saturated with some standing water, dirt, and icy uphills. Using the Spencer loop as the beginning of the course, racers faced a challenging climbing section for roughly two kilometers before a slow, grinding descent past the start, and two kilometers of short, steep uphills and downhills before the finish.
As much of the season has gone, the University of Colorado’s duo of Mads Strøm and Rune Ødegård paced the men’s field. Ødegård won the 10 k in 25:18.6, after starting slowly and speeding up on the second lap, with Strøm nipping University of Utah’s Niklas Persson by two-tenths of a second in 25:26.4. The rest of the men’s top ten was over thirty seconds back, but tightly bunched together despite the tough conditions and hilly course.
In the women’s 5 k race, University of New Mexico’s Emilie Cedervärn led New Mexico to the team win over Utah. Cedervärn won in 14:46.9 to Utah’s Veronika Mayerhofer’s 14:58.9 and New Mexico’s Eva Severrus’ 15:11.5. Much of the women’s top ten was strung out, finishing less than a minute out of the lead.
After the first day of racing, the University of Utah led the University of Colorado by eight points.
With the skate races finished, it was obvious the Hillside courses would not allow for another day of racing. With a return of freezing temperatures Monday evening, the trails turned to a sheet of ice and Tuesday’s races were tentatively postponed to Wednesday with the prospect of shifting even to Thursday depending on how Kincaid park, the site of the weekend’s RMISA Championships looked in the morning.
Luckily, Kincaid did manage (mostly) to freeze over night. The traditional stadium remained under water so the courses focused on short 2.2 k loops starting and finishing in the biathlon stadium and racing resumed on Wednesday morning with five and seven and a half kilometer classic races. Despite aggressive grooming, the course was mostly chunked ice and sugar, resulting in fast times and challenging conditions.
In the women’s race, Cedervärn made it two wins in a row in a time of 15:50 by beating Mayerhofer, who had started wearing the yellow discipline leader bib. Mayerhofer’s 15:57.8 put her in front of teammate Sloan Storey’s 16:01.9 and UAA’s Manon Locatelli’s 16:06.1. The top four women were clearly in a league of their own, with a gap of 25 seconds between Locatelli and fifth-place Kathrin Schratt of UAA. However, after that it was again close racing for the women, with places five through nine separated by less than nine seconds.
Storey’s third place finish was the only time in four days of racing in Alaska that an American skier stood on the podium in an RMISA race.
The men’s race saw the same top three from Monday’s race, but with a small shift. Strøm and Ødegård used some fine classic skiing to distance themselves, once again, from the men’s field. Strøm won in 20:22.2 and Ødegård finished second in 20:33.5. Persson finished third again in 20:57.4, just ahead of Clement Molliet of UAA. Places five through 18 were separated by only 35 seconds, making for some tight and exciting racing. Interestingly, four of the men’s top 10 raced the steep uphills on skate skis and double poling. Moritz Madlener of Denver University led the four in seventh place, while Montana State University’s threesome of Forest Mahlen, Erik Axelsson, and Martin Muan finished close together in 8th and tied for 10th respectively.
After the two races of the UAA Invitational, the University of Utah won the team competition on the nordic side with 351 points to the University of Colorado’s 319. University of New Mexico rounded out the top three teams with 299 points. Combined with alpine, Utah took overall top honors.
After a training day at Kincaid on Thursday marked by late morning grooming that left the track soft and sugary, RMISA regional championships commenced on Friday with 5/10 k skate races. Thankfully, the Kincaid groomers did incredible work which, coupled with overnight lows around 15 degrees, made for a first and fast track. The extensive work allowed for an increase in track length to 3.7 k with several short, steep climbs and limited rest.
Unfortunately, Anchorage, as it has much of the year, did not see very cold temperatures and come Saturday morning the track was soft and quickly turned into a loose mealy ice. Nevertheless, great racing occurred on the same courses at Kincaid with 15/20 k classic mass start races.
The women raced first on a slightly longer course and the lead pack of seven stayed tightly bunched through about halfway despite some aggressive skiing. Early on the third lap, Cedervärn made a hard push on the steep climbs, breaking apart the field, and dropping everyone except Utah’s Mayerhofer. Despite a gritty chase, Mayerhofer lost time on the final lap and Cedervärn won in 42:35.3 with Mayerhofer in 42:59. UAA’s Locatelli finished strong in third in 43:10.8.
The men’s race, despite the end result, was quite different and more exciting than any other race this season.
A large pack 11 formed on the first of six laps and stayed bunched together through four laps. Several skiers made hard pushes to get off the front and ski away, but the fast conditions, lack of long uphills, and strong drafting made the chase pack very strong. Aku Nikander of New Mexcio was aggressive in covering many of the attacks and Ødegård of Colorado also brought the race back together several times.
Ultimately, the race came down to the last lap with Colorado’s Ødegård and Strøm attacking the uphills and creating some separation. Nikander continued to fight and managed to solidify a podium spot partway through the lap by closing down the gap several times. The three were together in the last climb, but the CU boys made a gap on the final downhill and rise into the stadium, distancing Nikander by two seconds at the finish.
In the last hundred meters, Ødegård, visibly tiring from pushing the pace hard for the last two laps, was overtaken at the line by Strøm by three tenths of a second. The men finished in a blistering 50:20 for the over-21 kilometers. The rest of the men’s top ten was within 45 seconds of the lead.
With final scores for RMISA Championships tabulated, Colorado won the nordic standings with 337 points to New Mexico’s 324 and Utah’s 295; CU also took the overall title, this time over New Mexico.