SuperTour Racing Kicks Off in Duluth

Gavin KentchDecember 6, 2021
Fast racing on the manmade tracks during the men’s sprint heats in Duluth, MN. (Photo: Hansi Johnson)

By Gavin Kentch and Rachel Bachman Perkins

The SuperTour returned this weekend with races in Duluth, Minnesota, held on the new snowmaking courses at Grand Avenue Nordic Center. The weekend included all levels of racing, with green juniors lining up to race alongside the veterans racing on the SuperTour, and a strong sense of community and cross-country ski energy across the board. Skiers like to ski; athletes were glad to be back.

Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center (APU) athletes had a strong showing for the weekend, winning three out of four races. Rosie Frankowski (APU) and Alayna Sonnesyn (SMS T2) each made the podium twice. FasterSkier unofficially calculates the current SuperTour leaders as APU skiers Rosie Frankowski for the women, with 51 points after two races, and Tyler Kornfield for the men, with 42 points. The overall SuperTour leaders at the end of next weekend’s racing in Cable should receive start rights on the World Cup for Period 2, the Tour de Ski. Official USSS standings, here, have recently been updated, and accord with FasterSkier’s math.

Saturday: Freestyle sprint

Alayna Sonnesyn started out the qualifier in style, destroying the field to set the day’s fastest time for the two-lap, 1.3-kilometer course by a staggering ten-plus seconds. Several heats later, she was joined in the women’s final by a largely chalk field: Becca Rorabaugh (APU), Rosie Frankowski (APU), Julia Richter (University of Utah), and Sarah Goble (Sun Valley), who had the day’s second, third, fourth, and ninth fastest qualifying times, respectively. Katerina Hyncicova (NMU), who had been 23rd in qualifying, was the main outlier here.

Becca Rorabaugh (Bib 102) races through the heats to win the opening SuperTour sprint in Duluth. (Photo: Hansi Johnson)

Roughly three minutes later, the two women who had consistently been the top athletes in the field all day, Sonnesyn and Rorabaugh, found themselves at the top of the long descent for the second and last time in the women’s final. Sonnesyn led going into the descent, but Rorabaugh skied this segment aggressively to slingshot around Sonnesyn and was able to significantly out-glide her by the bottom of the hill. Sonnesyn made up some ground as the two of them made the lefthand turn into the stadium and the uphill finish, but Rorabaugh was never seriously threatened on her way to the line.

Rorabaugh took the win in 3:11.49, with Sonnesyn 0.47 seconds back.

Roughly four seconds later, the compact powerhouse Frankowski, traditionally identified as more of a distance skier, led Richter to the line by nearly 1.5 seconds to take third. Goble in fifth and Hyncicova in sixth made up the rest of the final.

The podium of the women’s freestyle sprint in Duluth. Becca Rorabaugh (APU) took the win ahead of Alayna Sonnesyn (SMS T2) and Rosie Frankowski (APU). (Photo: Hansi Johnson)

It was Rorabaugh’s first SuperTour win since the skate sprint at Wirth Park in February 2020. It was Frankowski’s first SuperTour podium since she was first and second at West Yellowstone in a sprint and distance race in December 2018.

“The sprint went really well for me,” Rorabaugh wrote in a post-race email. “It was exciting to get to race at a Super Tour again!  I love icy conditions, I love speed, and I love head to head racing, so it was pretty ideal for me. It’s also good to know that I’m sharpening up; these results show that I can hammer when I need to which is a good sign for the season.”

Reflecting on racing at the national level after a year away, Rorabaugh continued, “It feels really good to be back and to get to race against some of the people that I haven’t seen since early 2020. It seemed like Alaska was quite separate during last season, like maybe people forgot we were up there, so it’s fun to remind everyone that we’re a force to be reckoned with.”

Few athletes were familiar with the new course in Duluth. Rorabaugh also reflected on the course and the event as a whole.

“The sprint course in Duluth is fun and it suits me incredibly well. Some might say it’s lacking a long, steep climb, but I think most would agree that the downhill and the finish stretch are exciting and fun. The finish stretch is pitched up enough that you have to have a good sprint. You can’t just carry speed all the way to the line, which keeps things spicy at the end.

“The energy in Duluth has also been great, everyone has been very welcoming and combining the Super Tour with junior races means it’s a huge event. I always enjoy getting to see the younger skiers giving it their all, and the organized chaos of big races is exciting!”

Bryan Fish, U.S. Ski & Snowboard Sport XC Development Manager, reads the men’s heat list as it’s transferred onto a white board. (Photo: Hansi Johnson)

The men’s race featured more of the same: most top qualifiers making it through to the final, and an APU skier moving up from second to outglide a competitor on the final downhill into the finish. For the men, it was the first, second, third, eight, ninth, and outlier 27th-place qualifiers in the final: Tyler Kornfield (APU), Logan Diekmann (BSF), Bill Harmeyer (SMS), Adam Witkowski (Michigan Tech), Noel Keeffe (University of Utah/USST), and Kjetil Bånerud (NMU), respectively.

Two-plus minutes later, it was Keeffe leading Kornfield into the top of the final downhill. 15 seconds later, it was Kornfield leading Keeffe into the finish lanes, as APU’s skis were once again superior. Kornfield kept his lead through the stadium to take the win in 2:47.44, narrowly ahead of Keeffe (+0.23).

Tyler Kornfield (APU), right, wins the men’s freestyle sprint in a bootslide ahead of Noel Keefe (Univ. of Utah) at the opening SuperTour weekend in Duluth, MN. (Photo: Hansi Johnson)

A few seconds later, Witkowski (+2.90) outdistanced Harmeyer (+3.36) for the final podium spot. Diekmann and Bånerud followed several seconds later.

“It feels great to get to racing again,” Kornfield wrote after the race. “Last season, I was able to race two sprint qualifiers, but I failed to qualify for the heats in both. I love racing head to head and it was difficult at times to find inspiration. Fortunately, I have a great team at APU along with Gus and JC being in Alaska, we have been able to do a few time trials to prepare for the season. That allowed me to come to the races feeling calm and prepared. Though I never know exactly how I will perform early in the season, I have been cautiously optimistic about how my body has been performing in training. I hope that I can continue the trend into next week and onto the rest of the season. My mantra for the season is to make every race count and I think I did that in the sprint.”

Earlier that day, Kornfield’s longtime partner and fellow APUNSC athlete, Rosie Brennan, had made the podium in Lillehammer in a World Cup race. USST coach Matt Whitcomb congratulated the APU program on its successful day, alongside a heartwarming photo of the World Cup crew watching the CXC Live feed of the SuperTour races in a conference room at the Scandic Lillehammer.

“It is also easy to be inspired to race well when Rosie finishes on the podium of the World Cup,” Kornfield continued in his comments on the sprint day. “I often need to be careful because it is hard to fall back asleep after checking her results at three in the morning, but this morning, it was worth it.”

Kornfield also spoke to the course and event in Duluth, praising its challenges and how they might prepare athlete to race at the World Cup level.

“The course in Duluth was great! I think it was a perfect combination of long enough working sections that were wide enough to maneuver, as well as technical/icy turns that would cost someone who might lose focus either leading into, during, or coming out of the turns. If we have more courses like this one, I believe we can keep pushing the momentum of domestic racing that will prepare us for racing in Europe. It was also great to see so many people out watching. That can be rare sometimes on the SuperTour, but there is an obvious sense of excitement and passion in Duluth that will hopefully turn into a regular SuperTour venue!”

Saturday Sprint Results: Qualifiers (all) | Women’s final | Men’s final | All heat results

Multimedia: sprint course preview video from Bill Harmeyer | livestream replay from CXC

Fast racing on the tracks in Duluth as the SuperTour returns. (Photo: Hansi Johnson)

Sunday: Freestyle distance

While athletes raced on a white ribbon with bare ground exposed on either side during the sprint, what one might call a “wintery mix” arrived in Duluth on Sunday morning. Over four inches of fresh snow fell overnight, which turned into wet icy flakes as the races began. APU coach and tech Galen Johnston shared photos of graupel-encrusted skis, which left us wondering what skiers might have looked like at the finish.

In the individual start freestyle events, senior men raced five laps of a roughly 2.2-kilometer course while senior women raced three laps.

Team Birkie’s Zak Ketterson eked out a win on the men’s side in a time of 26:33.4, beating Northern Michigan University (NMU) athlete Kjetil Bånerud by 3.4 seconds. Bånerud had started three bibs ahead and held the fastest splits until Ketterson came through. Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP) athlete Adam Martin skied the third-fastest men’s time (+8.6) to round out the podium.

“10 kilometers is a tricky distance because while it seems short compared to our normal 15k distance, it’s definitely still long enough to require some good pacing,” wrote Ketterson after the race. “I was fortunate to receive a lot of splits from my coaches, as well as my old NMU coaches and others.”

Zak Ketterson on course during the opening SuperTour races in Duluth, MN. (Photo: Hansi Johnson)

Originally from Bloomington, MN, on the south side of Minneapolis, Ketterson is an NMU alumnus. While other athletes on the podium, like Frankowski and Sonnesyn, are also originally from the Midwest, Ketterson has spent his entire ski career in the region, and he felt the community support during the race.

“It was a really great atmosphere at the Grand Ave Nordic center. I really like Duluth and have very fond memories from when I raced there last year with NMU at some NCAA qualifier races. My favorite part of racing in the Midwest is that there are so many friends that cheer for me. It really feels like a ‘home’ race.”

Commenting on the season ahead, Ketterson shared, “My goals for this season are to just take it one race at a time, trying to do my best in every opportunity I get. We will see where that gets me! For now, I’m just happy to be a part of such an amazing team (Team Birkie) and to be racing again.”

Zak Ketterson pushes uphill during the 10k skate, with Team Birkie “legend”, Brian Gregg (Bib 250), matching pace behind. (Photo: Hansi Johnson)
On the women’s side, with her second podium of the season, APU’s Rosie Frankowski edged out Alex Lawson (CGRP) by just 0.9 seconds. Lawson started behind Frankowski and had been sitting in third, powering through her final lap to create a nail-biter over the final kilometer. During this final lap, Lawson overtook Alayna Sonnesyn (SMS T2), who finished third (+6.1).
The women’s top-6 after the 10k distance race in Duluth. Rosie Frankowski (APU) topped the podium, ahead of Alex Lawson (CGRP) and Alayna Sonnesyn (SMS T2). (Photo: Hansi Johnson)

Frankowski shared the following reflections on her weekend in Duluth via email:

“Before heading down to Duluth, I was pretty nervous about this weekend and tried to have realistic expectations since these races were a short, relatively flat sprint and 5k—both events that I honestly don’t typically perform that well in. However, I have been focusing on speed work, downhills and carrying speed a lot this summer behind my speedy APU teammates so yesterday’s results on a very fast course was a great surprise that boosted my confidence for today’s 5k. Today out on the course was a whirlwind. We actually raced 3 laps of a bit over 2 kilometer lap so I lucked out that it was a bit longer and the snowfall from the night before and during the race made it slower than yesterday. The course held up surprisingly well and was really not that choppy or soft except the one V-1 hill.

“I went out as hard as I could since honestly my 5k race pace often accidentally is my 10k pace and I knew that I needed to be snappy. I did slow down throughout the laps, but I honestly think most of that slowdown was on the downhill section which was where I questioned whether I should free skate, tuck, V-2, etc. I was very early in the seeded group so I didn’t really have the chance to rely on splits back or watching my competitors to determine what seemed to work best. All in all, I am super excited to walk away with the win and I am hoping this weekend of racing gives me more confidence about my short race skiing abilities, and I have to give a hats off to our APU wax techs and all of the volunteers from Duluth that made this weekend possible.”

Rosie Frankowski skis through wet falling snow to win the women’s 10k at the opening SuperTour weekend in Duluth, MN. (Photo: Hansi Johnson)

On returning to racing with a widespread field of high-level athletes, Frankowski echoed her teammate Rorabaugh’s sentiments on feeling isolated as she stayed put in Anchorage. Her words embody the many challenges we have all faced in the calculus of travel and risk-assessment during the pandemic.

“It’s nice to be back racing on a national level circuit. Last season was really challenging since us Alaskans didn’t have much opportunity to race people from out of state (due to avoiding unnecessary air travel). We had a crazy strong early season circuit with Sadie Bjornsen, Jess Yeaton and Becca all in our races, but it felt like we were just not connected with the rest of the country. I personally really struggled with turning down Period 1 World Cup starts after a teammate contracted COVID and the financial implications that COVID created with race uncertainty. Then in January, I contracted COVID and it felt like it ended my opportunities to gain World Cup starts.

“I am just thankful that this year we have more certainty about what races will happen and what the road to opportunity looks like. I also feel that as I have gotten older, I have realized that while good results are fun and exciting, the true value in racing a circuit is the relationships you create with your competitors, other coaches, officials, etc. Returning to the Supertour and Duluth (as Minnesota is my home state), I found so much joy in chatting with my fellow racers, longtime club coaches, friends from NMU [Frankowski is also an alumna], Southwest High School and LNR, and just being part of a community that wants to spend their weekend working hard out in the cold. I’m hoping that no matter where my results fall this season, and whether I make the lofty goals I’ve laid out, I can appreciate the people and connections as the true value of ski racing.”

With a win in the distance and third place in the sprint, APU’s Rosie Frankowski leads the SuperTour point rankings. (Photo: Hansi Johnson)

Sunday Distance Results: Women | Men

Multimedia: livestream replay from CXC

Gavin Kentch

Gavin Kentch wrote for FasterSkier from 2016–2022. He has a cat named Marit.

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