SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Alaska Pacific University (APU) skiers Scott Patterson and Eric Packer know a thing or two about persevering through pain. Both have dealt with recent frightening incidents, Patterson with a pulmonary embolism last fall and Packer when he took a rocky tumble this past June. Despite their misfortune, neither let the mishaps hold them back. On Sunday, the duo proved how far they have come since, finishing first and third, respectively, in the Sun Valley SuperTour 15 kilometer classic mass start.
The men started at 11 a.m. under cloudy skies and light snow flurries. From the beginning, it was clear that the APU athletes were looking to make a statement; the blue-and-black uniforms were ubiquitous in the lead pack. The Sun Valley spectators enjoyed their presence as well, rooting them on as they rounded the course.
Eventual second-place finisher Mads Strøm, however, was excited to try to spoil the APU party. Early on in the six-lap race, he established himself as a threat, skiing comfortably towards the front of the pack. The University of Colorado-Boulder skier then used the strong APU presence around him as extra motivation to ski fast.
“Going around [the course], everyone just cheering for APU. I was out there all alone,” Strøm said in a post-race interview. “I was like, I’ve got to beat some of these guys. I have to. For everybody else, I have to beat some of them at least.”
After two laps where the leaders stuck together, only three seconds separated the top 17, the group broke apart. APU’s David Norris made an aggressive move up Coaches’ Climb on the third lap, and only a handful of racers were able to respond.
“Norris made a bit of a surge up the biggest hill and I kind of got stuck behind a couple people and pushed over the top,” Patterson explained. “That kind of jump started me into gear.”
Shortly thereafter on the third lap, the 23-year-old Anchorage native took the lead and didn’t relinquish it, keeping his distance ahead of any potential challengers all the way through the finish. Patterson crossed the line in 40:35.9, over 30 seconds ahead of the runner up.
Though Norris made the early move to break the pack apart, he was unable to hold the pace, falling back on the fifth lap while a battle for second place developed between Strøm and Packer.
In the last kilometer before the finish, the two were still neck and neck, battling for position on the final climb. Packer led Strøm over the top, but a mistake on the downhill caused him to lose some momentum and created an opportunity for Strøm.
“It was the last kilometer of a race at altitude, so I knew we were both hurting and that’s a thing to keep in mind; everybody else is hurting as bad as you are,” Packer explained of the Lake Creek venue, some 6,000 feet above sea level. “So I tried to put in a big attack over the top and then almost crashed on the downhill, and when I bobbled Mads came by and he took me at the line.”
Strøm also was feeling confident heading into the finish. Combining good skis, a desire to disrupt an APU one-two finish and some strong skiing, he was able to claim the second podium spot, 31.6 seconds behind Patterson and 2.3 seconds ahead of Packer.
“I knew I had fast skis going down and I know I’m a fast finisher after 15 k, I was like, I can’t let them go one-two,” said Strøm, originally from Oslo, Norway. “I have to mix it up a bit at least. But it was fun. [Packer] really tried hard and I just got some confidence in the last hill that, yeah, I should get this.”
While he was pleased with his race, Strøm said it’s just a step towards his larger focus for the season, NCAA championships, which the University of Colorado will host March 9-12 in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
“Obviously I wanted to win. I haven’t gotten quite there yet because I have been training almost 100 hours every month since May,” Strøm explained. “I’ve planned that in one month from now I’m going to be in better shape and my plan is to win both races at NCAA’s.”
For Patterson and Packer, who also grew up in Anchorage, the APU skiers were excited with their races and happy to have given it their all in Sun Valley. Overcoming their misfortunes only made the moment more special.
“Every day that we get to race is just an awesome opportunity to go out and have fun,” Packer reflected. “After having a really close call and having a big fall in the mountains, everything, you look at it with a new perspective. I just feel so lucky to be out here really.”
“I mean, watching him fall in the mountains was definitely an eye opening thing,” Patterson recalled. “We were lucky there and it’s sweet to have Eric here [on the podium]. And then, this is my first year racing this first circuit so, I mean, I’m happy to be here too, happy to not have a ski sticking out of my leg.”
One spot from the podium in fourth was another APU skier, Lex Treinen, who finished 26.8 seconds after third and 1:00.7 behind Patterson. About a second later, Kyle Bratrud of Central Cross Country (CXC) placed fifth (+1:01.9).
After two weekends of racing, the SuperTour takes nearly a month break before resuming with U.S. Nationals on Jan. 3 in Houghton, Mich.