By Rachel Bachman Perkins, Ella Hall, and Gavin Kentch
Thursday marked the final day of racing at the 2022 U.S. Cross Country Championships in Soldier Hollow, UT. (Friday’s classic sprint is a SuperTour only, not part of the National Championship series.)
After prime conditions in Sunday’s freestyle sprint and Tuesday’s 20/30-kilometer freestyle distance races, warm and wet weather made its way into the forecast just in time for the 10/15k interval-start classic races. Temperatures that started in the mid 30s for the women’s race climbed into the low 40s for the men’s race. In combination with variable precipitation that was not-quite-white, teams faced a dreaded combination of conditions for classic racing.
Looking like thoroughbreds, skiers shuffled and kicked their skis in the tracks to prevent icing as they lined up at the start gate to begin racing. For many athletes, the shuffling continued even after they pushed through the start wand and headed out onto the course. Even top-10 finishers could be seen slipping, struggling, and doing anything possible to get their skis to kick, while exhibiting technique that looked more like “desperate times call for desperate measures” than “this is what my technique videos should look like.” Classic racing in a warming world can be rough.
Women’s Race: Caitlin Patterson Wins by Nearly a Minute
One athlete who had scant difficulty with the variable conditions was Caitlin Patterson of Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP). Starting in bib 37, near the back of the top-seeded field (bibs 21-40), Patterson had the advantage of receiving splits telling her how she was doing relative to the rest of her competition. Tuesday’s second-place finisher in the distance skate race, Rosie Frankowski, started one minute later in bib 39, but athletes starting ahead of her included Katharine Ogden (USST/SMS T2) in bib 23, Master skier Erika Flowers (BSF) in bib 29, and U20 skier Sydney Palmer-Leger (USST/U Utah) in bib 36.
All that said, Patterson didn’t have to do very complicated math out there. After the first of three 3.33-kilometer laps, she was already in first, by 6 seconds over Palmer-Leger. After the second lap, her lead had grown to a healthy 30.9 seconds through less than 7 k of racing, this time over BSF Pro Team skier Mariah Bredal. Patterson proceeded to clock the fastest third leg in the field, by over 20 seconds, on her way to the finish, ultimately winning by nearly a minute.
Patterson notched the fastest first and second legs, too. The math can sometimes get complicated in interval-start races, but it’s safe to say that if you have the fastest time for each of three legs, you have won the race. Patterson did so by a remarkable margin of nearly one minute over ten kilometers, crossing the line in 28:12.0. No other athlete in the field broke 29 minutes on the day.
“Today was a really nice race for me, and I’m very happy with it,” Patterson wrote to FasterSkier after the race. “I skied my own race, but also felt that I went for it aggressively right from the start. It’s not every day that it’s possible to hold on to an effort like that, but I was able to keep pushing and building into the race. It’s fun to be able to race so hard, dig in deep but also be getting hints of recovery on the downhills. I was getting occasional splits that I was in the lead, but not many details, so I just kept pushing, especially since you never quite know with splits if they’re capturing everyone. However, in my 3rd and final lap, I believe I heard some cheering to the effect of ‘Caitlin you’re putting on a clinic, keep going!’ and I had some ideas that the race was quite a good one in results, to match the feelings.”
Patterson was one of few skiers who looked as if she could trust her skis throughout the race, still keeping her technique shorter and choppier than a traditional stride and glide, but nevertheless consistently achieving grip where her opponents were faltering. She acknowledged the role that the CGRP service team played in today’s success.
“The CGRP waxers – Nick Brown, Jake Barton, Ollie Burruss, and coach Pepa Miloucheva – did an awesome job with skis today and I’d like to thank them for their hard work today and every day! Great skis really helped set us up for success, and I’m proud of my whole team’s efforts this week.”
Patterson also reflected on her performance in the three stages of the U.S. Championships as a whole. Putting together a successful week of racing, she took home two wins, today and in the freestyle sprint Sunday, along with a third place finish in the 20k on Tuesday.
“Overall Nationals feelings have been quite good once I’ve gotten into the racing itself. Once I toe the line, my body wakes up and I’ve been able to push hard. It’s not all sunshine though, as many of the off days and even the warm ups before races have been a little rougher around the edges. Most racers I expect are familiar with the restless nights of sleep, the pre-race jitters, and the accumulated toll of so many races in a row – still, that’s part of the challenge to get through. I think the fact that Sunday was my first sprint race of the year, plus going the full four rounds, took more out of me than I would have expected. However everything seems to bounce back pretty well in time for the next race, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s sprint and overall enjoying so many chances during the week to dig in and race hard!”
Ogden, very recently returned from Europe after racing to 31st in Monday’s 10 k classic in Val di Fiemme in stage five of the Tour de Ski, took second, 53.4 seconds back, in a steady effort that saw “only” the third- and fourth-fastest individual lap times, but the second-best time overall.
“This race was brutally hard!” Ogden wrote to FasterSkier. “The course was hilly and a lot of fun, exactly what we expect of Soldier Hollow. I knew that winning today was a total long shot after racing five races of the tour and then flying [to Salt Lake City] only a day and a half before the race, but I am really proud of the way that I skied today. Even though it wasn’t the miracle race that I was hoping for, it was incredibly fun to race at home in the U.S. and to see so many people that are really special to me and have been instrumental in my ski career.
“Despite how painful the race was today, I can honestly say that I am so incredibly happy to be here and that I have never felt more loved by the ski world. It is always an honor to get a chance to race for Stratton, the team that has supported me unconditionally for the past 10 years. I am also extremely impressed by the way that Caitlin and Mariah skied today. They both work exceptionally hard and it was really special to witness that effort paying off in a big way.”
Bredal raced to third overall (+1:01.2), after moving up from fifth at the first checkpoint.
Originally from Victor, ID, just over Teton Pass from Jackson Hole, WY, Bredal is a 2021 graduate of the University of Utah, where she earned two-time All American and three-time All RMISA honors. Bredal also finished 8th in Tuesday’s 20k freestyle (+4:44.5) and 16th in Sunday’s freestyle sprint.
“Today’s race was a day that everything fell into place for me and actually ended up being one of my better races ever!” wrote Bredal after the race. “It was pretty fun for that to happen and result in a podium at U.S. Nationals. I felt really good to begin with and was able to push myself a lot throughout the race too. I had amazing skis as well today.”
Speaking to her transition to post-collegiate racing, Bredal also shared her thoughts on joining the Bridger Ski Foundation Pro Team in Bozeman, MT.
“I have enjoyed it a lot so far and feel like my skiing is improving also. It’s been awesome to be on the team and I’m grateful for the quality of training and coaching I’ve had so far! Bozeman is a pretty sweet place too. I feel like I’ve had a pretty good start to the season at the SuperTours, and it’s been nice to start the season a little earlier as well.”
Initially a podium favorite, Frankowski had a rough day, posting the third-ranked time for lap one, but the 17th-ranked time for lap two, en route to finishing ninth overall (+1:41.2). Her APU teammate Becca Rorabaugh, who was second in the 10k classic in the Cable SuperTour races earlier this season, finished in a tie for 14th. Notably, APU may also have had trouble waxing for comparable conditions in the men’s classic sprint at this venue in 2017, when none of its athletes made the heats.
Notable performances from athletes starting outside the seeded group included Hannah Rudd (BSF) in eighth (+1:31.8), U18 athlete Nina Schamberger (Summit Nordic Ski Club) in 10th (+1:48.0), and Annika Landis (CGRP) in 14th (+2:02.0).
There was no separate juniors race on Thursday; all athletes raced the same course. Extracting the top junior athletes from the results yields an unofficial junior women’s podium of Palmer-Leger (6th overall, +1:23.7), Schamberger, and Samantha Smith (SVSEF, 13th overall, +2:01.7).
Men’s Race: Martin Out-Paces the Field for a Second Craftsbury Title
While temperatures continued to warm, the rain cleared and the sun began to shine at the start of the men’s 15 k classic individual start. Over 100 athletes completed the four 3.75 k laps, and it was Adam Martin (CGRP) who came out on top, winning in 39:18.0. With live timing down for most of the race, it was difficult to tell with certainty how the places were playing out, instead identifying strong contenders based on how skis were kicking and gliding and how well an athlete’s technique was holding together.
For Martin, it was his first national title after several previous podium finishes, all coming in the classic technique. In 2019, racing on home tracks at Craftsbury, Martin was second in the 15 k classic, finishing behind Kyle Bratrud. The year prior at Distance Nationals in Craftsbury, Martin was second in the 50 k classic mass start. In 2016 at Nationals in Houghton MI, Martin was third in the 15 k classic behind Kevin Sandau (CAN) and Thursday’s second-place finisher, Scott Patterson.
“I wanted to win,” wrote Martin after the race, “However, I have a lot of respect for my competitors, so I knew it would take many pieces falling into place to have a shot at it.” He added, “I’m stoked – this is a dream come true for me!”
Reflecting on the conditions Martin wrote, “The conditions were soft klister skiing, and I was really happy with my skis – a good balance of enough kick and still good glide. I started towards the front of the A seed, so I tried to push a hard pace from the start. I was able to recover well on the course downhills, so even though it was at altitude, I was able to accrue big deficits on the uphills without completely blowing up.”
Scott Patterson (APU) came in second (+48.9), following up his victory in the 30 k with another podium finish. After the race he wrote, “I felt solid throughout the race. After talking to my sister following her success, I knew it was going to be hard from the start. I had that in my mind and went out for battle. I started quite strong and felt solid early on, but later, I knew my form was falling apart a bit and my arms were tiring. Four months of one pole and limited two pole skiing through the fall following my wrist injury didn’t exactly enhance my double pole endurance. However, I think I fought through that well and made the most of what I had today.”
Regarding the conditions Patterson noted, “Conditions were tough out on the course today. Warming up quite a few of my APU teammates were noting that it felt a bit like skiing on Eagle glacier in the afternoon. The pole troughs were deep, and the tracks were getting a bit wobbly and blown out. Days like today require a lot from both the athletes and the wax techs.”
Patterson started bib 231, meaning he could get splits off of Martin who started bib 224. To this, Patterson wrote, “Most of the race I was focused on chasing down my APU teammate Hunter Wonders who started right in front of me. (Wonders finished fifth, +1:18.5 back from Martin.) I did receive a few splits from Adam Martin, but it became clear pretty quickly in the race that he was skiing in a different league today.”
“Instead I was focusing on the little things right in front of me,” Patterson continued. “Hunter proved a good rabbit with a strong start and similar performing skis. I was unable to catch him, but finished just a few seconds behind. I also had a bit of a view of JC Schoonmaker when we turned at the top of the hollow. His continual presence about 30 seconds back kept me pushing all the way as I knew it would be close.”
He turned out to be right. Rounding out the podium was JC Schoonmaker (USST/UAA) in third (+52.9), just four seconds behind Patterson.
Schoonmaker earned his first national title on Tuesday during the skate sprint but he wrote, “[Thursday’s] distance podium probably feels better than the sprint win the other day just because it’s been something I’ve been working super hard on. I’ve never viewed myself as just a sprinter, so today helps to prove that and I’m really proud to feel like I can do both.”
He continued, “I felt really good for the whole race, I definitely took it out pretty hard I think and just tried to hang in there. It was really tough conditions but I had awesome skis and I got a nice train with two of my other UAA teammates. It’s pretty fun when you can race next to your teammates and it just feels like another hard training day.”
Schoonmaker’s teammates Espen Persen and Magnus Norøy, both from Norway, finished fourth (+1:04.9) and eighth (+1:28.7), respectively.
Looking forward to the next few weeks, Schoonmaker shared, “I’ll race the classic sprint tomorrow and then head to Sun Valley next weekend for some more super tours and RMISA races. After that, hopefully back to Europe and Beijing.”
Alexander Maurer (CU) was the first junior finishing in 41:59.7, 15th overall and +2:41.7 behind Martin. Walker Hall (UU) was the second junior, taking 17th overall, just +1.9 behind Maurer and +2:43.6 behind Martin. Will Koch (CU) was third for the day, 20th overall, +27.7 behind Maurer, and +3:09.4 behind Martin.
Men’s official results were not yet available at the time of publication, but will be posted here when possible. The first page of unofficial results is shown below.