The 2022 FIS Junior/U23 World Ski Championships trip has been made possible through support from the National Nordic Foundation (NNF), which has identified this invaluable opportunity for developing athletes as one of its “Pillar Projects”. You can support the NNF and the next generations of America’s top skiers by making a donation here.
LYGNA, NOR — Originally scheduled to take place in Zakopane, Poland but moved to Lygna, Norway, the 2022 FIS Junior World Ski Championships kicked off a week of competition on Tuesday. Situated roughly an hour north of Oslo at around 2,000 ft, the Lygna stadium could be described crudely as the middle-of-nowhere. But that would be vastly underselling the venue that hosted the Norwegian National Championships in 2019, which features a stout race course and offers classic Norwegian countryside charm.
The first event on the schedule was the 15 k skate mass start for the women and a 30 k skate mass start for the men. The women went first, completing three laps of a 5 k loop. Toeing the line for the US were Sydney Palmer-Leger (University of Utah/Park City, Utah), Samantha Smith (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation/Sun Valley, Idaho), Nina Schamberger (Summit Nordic Ski Club/Leadville, Colorado), and Kate Oldham (Aspen Valley Ski Club/Carbondale, Colorado).
“This is my third World Juniors,” said Palmer-Leger, “I was in Lahti, my first one. [It’s] definitely the best World Juniors I’ve been to right now, it’s kinda chill, the last couple years are intense. You know, the first World Juniors you don’t know what to expect and now I’m the one with the most experience, being over in Europe so it’s kind of fun to know what I’m doing a little bit.”
Palmer-Leger spent the first part of the season racing Period I of the World Cup with the US Ski Team, including skiing the scramble leg for the second US relay team in Lillehammer. Speaking to the course here in Lygna, Palmer-Leger said, “It’s a pretty hard course, there’s not a whole lot of rest in the first part but, it’s fun, there’s a lot of V1 the first part.” Last year at World Juniors in Vuokatti, Finland, several of the junior US women were not able to compete due to Covid-contact tracing protocols. Palmer-Leger was one of those unlucky few and she explained, “This is my second mass start at World Juniors because last year Novie [McCabe] and I were quarantined. This is my last year as a junior, so that’s really fun.”
15 k later, Palmer-Leger was the first finisher for the US in sixth position, with Helen Hoffman of Germany, Lisa Eriksson of Sweden, and Tuva Brusveen-Jensen of Norway finishing first through third respectively. “It’s sort of difficult doing these races because girls are not very relaxed,” Palmer-Leger explained, “and you’re stepping on each others poles and skis, and [the course] is really tight [in some places], and it goes from a a gradual downhill into a pretty steep uphill and girls sometimes will just stop and it’s like the accordion effect and I got stuck in the middle a bunch of times and luckily I didn’t break any poles. A bunch of Russians broke poles and some of our girls broke poles. I went down once but didn’t break anything.”
After this strong start to the week, she concluded “I’m really excited. Being in Norway is amazing.”
The next US finisher was youngster Samantha Smith. Smith is just 16 years old and the 15 k was her first-ever World Juniors race. She finished in 11th (+1:11.3) behind race winner Hoffmann (GER). Kate Oldham was also competing for the first time at World Juniors and posted a top-thirty finish in 27th place (+3:09.5). Nina Schamberger is also 16 years old and the 15 k was her first World Juniors race. She finished in 41st, +4:04.1 back.
Moving right along, the men were soon on the start-line, ready for their six laps. Starting at 3pm local time, the temperature was dropping as a slight wind picked up. Competing for the US was Michael Earnhart (APU Nordic Ski Center/Eagle River, Alaska), Walker Hall (University of Utah/Winthrop, Wash.), Brian Bushey (University of Utah/Waitsfield, Vermont), and Alexander Maurer (University of Colorado/Anchorage, Alaska).
“Last year was my first [World Juniors] but this year is the first year I felt like I had a chance to get top 10 and everything, last year I was like ‘well I’ll be happy if I get top 30’” said Earnhart, after the race. In a competition where Russians took the top four finish positions, Earnhart managed to achieve that goal in the first race of the week, finishing in 10th (+2:33.5).
Talking through his race he said, “ the first half of the race I was just trying not to break equipment, trying not to fall, kinda trying to have fun you know, it’s fun skiing in a pack so I was just trying to stay relaxed. I got pushed a little ways back, I think I was back to 20th or 30th at some points but I just stayed relaxed. Then, on the fourth lap it started to string out and I was like, ‘Ok, I’ve got to get in a better position, get up there.’ Going into the last lap, I think I was in 12th and I knew that top ten gets you on the US ski team and I really wanted that, so I was just looking at 10th. I was like, ‘He’s right there. I gotta keep going.’ He got a little tired and I was hungry so…”
Earnhart pre-qualified for World Juniors this year by achieving a sub-50 FIS points result in the 15 k skate mass start Super Tour in Cable, WI earlier this season. He explained, “I did the 30 k at Nationals because I pre-qualified for this, just for the simple [reason], ‘I need more 30k experience.’”
Also pre-qualifying for World Juniors in the same event, Brian Bushey finished his day in 16th position, +3:46.5 behind the top Russian, Alexander Ivshin. This in spite of the fact that as Earnhart put it, “Bushey took a big tumble, it’s a learning experience for sure.”
Speaking of learning experiences, Walker Hall was having one out on the course as he made his first World Juniors appearance, racing his first-ever 30 k. “My legs were so tired after like 10 k,” he said at the finish. He landed just outside the top-thirty, coming 31st, +6:01.7 back. Rounding out the U.S. finishers, Alexander Maurer finished 36th, +6:48.9 out, also making his first World Juniors appearance.
Racing continued Wednesday with the women’s and men’s relay events. Coverage of that event to follow.
World Juniors links and information:
Growing up in Washington’s Methow Valley, Ella was immersed in skiing and the ski community from a young age. From early days bundled in the pulk, to learning to ski as soon as she could walk, to junior racing, a few seasons of collegiate racing, and then to coaching, she has experienced the ski world in many forms. Now, as a recent graduate from Dartmouth College, she finds herself living in France splitting her time between teaching English at a university in Lyon, avidly following ski racing (and now writing about it!) and adventuring in the outdoors as often as possible.