The good news: “We’ll have a race tomorrow,” Chief of Competition Gary Larson said Wednesday of the Junior National Championships currently taking place at the Telemark Trail System in Cable, Wis. Due to exceedingly warm temperatures on Tuesday reaching into the 60’s, the 5-kilometer and 1.3-kilometer race courses have been jeopardized.
“It was impossible to realize how much this weather did to the snow. This is very unusual for Wisconsin,” Larson said. “The snow was good up until Saturday.”
On Monday, the racers and coaches representing regions from across the U.S. began to notice the deteriorating conditions as they fought through spring-like ski trails during the 5/10 k classic individual start races. The following day, a small section of the course was opened only to coaches to test classic kick for the following classic sprint, while all athletes were redirected to sections of the American Birkebeiner trail to ski for the day. Eventually, the organizing committee decided to change and postpone the planned events for the rest of the Junior Nationals.
“We ended up changing the schedule a lot,” Larson said. “We just can’t get [classic] tracks in, so the sprint is going to be skate on Friday. We still at this time don’t know whether or not we are going to be able to do heats, or if it is just going to be a prologue.”
Instead of the original classic sprint, freestyle distance mass start, and freestyle relay set for the week, athletes are preparing for a freestyle individual distance race, freestyle sprint and a freestyle relay.
“At first I was pretty upset, but then I realized the course changes were made for the best,” Rocky Mountain athlete Nolan Herzog said. “It is kind of a roll-with-the-punches scenario right now, because we don’t really know what is going to happen.”
He hopes that there will be adequate snow for the three scheduled remaining races.
According to Larson, the prolonged above-freezing temperatures in Cable have created the issues with the course. The lack of snow on the trails is not the problem, it is the water that pools at low points on the trail and softens the snow due to lack of drainage.
Larson, for the most part, has received supportive responses from parents, coaches, and athletes about this unexpected turn of weather.
“I’m glad that the organizing committee is as committed as they are to trying to deliver a good quality race,” Intermountain coach Rick Kapala said. “I think that if they can put the big climb in, the A-climb, we are going to have a really, really good athletic test.”
The organizing committee and Larson are striving to maintain as much of the original 5 k loop as possible to ensure that athletes are met with a fair and challenging series of races thanks to hundreds of volunteers.
“Our problem is we don’t have enough shovels,” Larson noted. As chief of this event, he said he has received “unbelievable” response from service people, coaches and parents eager to help distribute snow throughout the manmade and natural snow course.
“They have been exceedingly understanding, and out here helping. It takes that kind of effort and that kind of understanding to make it work,” Larson said.
Reflecting on the preparation for such unpredictable conditions, Larson acknowledges that the one thing that may have helped prevent this would have been to put “thicker snow on the trail that we can access with the snowmaking.” Despite the fact that the 5 k course at Telemark was the first ever World Cup course, requiring reliable snowmaking, the pipes used for snowmaking are damaged except for a small loop. The Telemark Trail System has not utilized the snowmaking tools since November.
“The future of our cross-country ski sport is going to be tough. Make snow and place the snow early, as insurance,” Larson suggests to future hosts of events like Junior Nationals.
Back to the good news: there will be a race tomorrow. New England coach Rob Bradlee acknowledges that he is “impressed how everybody is dealing with very, very difficult conditions that are way outside our control. I’m admiring everyone’s spirit, both the organizers’ and the participants.”
Despite the sporadic drizzles of rain in Cable, Bradlee is feeling what most are; the anticipation and excitement are high among athletes, coaches and organizers as the rest of the week unfolds.
Update: Wednesday’s course will be a 3.7 k loop involving two laps for 5 k, three laps for 10 k, and four laps for 15 k. Temperatures were expected to drop below freezing on Wednesday night and organizers planned to salt the course. Regardless, they have still ruled out classic races.
- Watch the races live online, courtesy of Central Cross Country