North American racing hit high gear today with the opening of the combined Nordiq Cup and SuperTour series at Sovereign Lake with classic sprints. This week brings together the top skiers from all of North America, Mexico included, and Wednesday’s qualification was kicked off by the top ranked skiers: USA’s Hailey Swirbul and Canada’s Russell Kennedy.
Many teams arrived two weeks in advance to enjoy some elevation training on corduroy while teams with good early skiing—like Alaska Pacific University (APU) and University of Utah—rolled in just in time for official training.
Race day dawned with heavy snowfall and strong winds at -11C. Roughly 20cm of snow fell while the grooming team was preparing trails, starting at 3am. The snowplow got stuck before clearing the Sovereign Lake access road, forcing a one hour delay. The wind and snow ended about 10:30, half an hour before Swirbul started her qualification. As the day rolled on, skiers saw clouds and sunshine, but ended under the lights as the sun set on the men’s final.
APU’s Swirbul qualified first, completing the 1.2km course in 4:10.99. University of Colorado’s Anna-Maria Dietze (GER) was second, 3.29 back, followed by University of Utah’s Karianne Dengarud (NOR) at 4.29.
For the men, Sun Valley’s Peter Wolter (USA) was fastest, completing the same course in 3:32.38. U Utah’s Noel Keefe (USA) was close behind at 0.86 seconds, with national team member Kennedy third at 1.78 back.
Canada has joined a number of countries in automatically shifting U20 athletes into the open heats if they qualify in the top 30 overall. National team member Xav McKeever (CAN) was the fastest U20 male in 9th, 3.29 back,
Mexico’s Karla Schleski Shepard did not qualify for the heats, but her presence made this a truly North American event.
In the heats, racing progressed smoothly with a minimum of jury intervention, although many racers commented on how long the 1.2km course felt.
Swirbul won all three heats on her way to victory, leading the final in 4:02.05. Sydney Palmer Leger (USA) was a close second at 0.35 with Dietze completing the podium at 1.05. The final was distinctly international with Germany, Poland, and Norway represented.
Swirbul and Palmer Leger talked about their races and the full North American field, watch it here.
“It’s definitely a hard course,” Dietze told FasterSkier, “it was really tough to do four of these loops all out. A lot of fun.”
Canada’s top woman was CNEPH’s Liliane Gagnon in 10th, followed by AWCA teammates Katie Weaver and Sonjaa Schmidt in 11th and 12th.
On the men’s side, U Colorado’s Magnus Boee (NOR) won in 3:23.83, with APU’s Zanden McMullen (USA) at 0.46 and McKeever leading the U20 contingent at 2.70 seconds back.
U Colorado’s Will Koch (USA), Kennedy, and Bridger Ski Foundation’s Graham Houtsma (USA) completed the final heat, with U Utah’s Walker Hall (USA) scoring the same 3:28.68 lucky loser time as Houtsma, but losing out on a tie breaker.
FasterSkier reporters didn’t locate race winner, Magnus Bøe, in the post-race darkness, but we caught up with the other podium finishers.
“I think it was important to keep your energy low early, in the first half of the race, and then coming around the last turn, you want to be in a good position,” McMullen said. “Make sure you really gunned it from there.”
“It’s amazing to be here. SilverStar is beautiful and Sovereign Lake here. This is my first time here, only second time in Canada,” McMullen continued. “So yeah, no complaints. I’ll definitely be back again.”
“I had a pretty spicy semifinal there, broke a pole going into the biggest climb of the course,” McKeever said of his lucky loser path the final. “I just tried to ski as best as possible in the final and just try and be tactical and position myself well and came out third.”
Thunder Bay’s Julian Smith was the third Canadian, going out in the semifinals for 8th.
Athletes will spend a lot of time combing through results from these first high level races, and comparing those with results of Canadian NextGen skiers from Bruksvallarna earlier in November.
“I was happy with my races overall and was happy to come back here to SilverStar, as it’s one of my favourite places in the world to ski and compete in.” McKeever said. “I had a good time in Europe, just warming up with some first races of the season, competing with some really strong people, had some good sprints.”
The “strong people” mentioned by McKeever included a list of stars like Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson and Ebba Andersson , who moved on to the World Cup in Ruka. Many domestic racers will be looking at the NextGen results in Bruksvallarna and Sovereign Lake to get a sense of how North American racing compares to Scandinavian speed.
Look for some action video on Nordiq Canada’s social media, because Nathaniel Mah is raising the bar.
Confused about the Sovereign Lake versus SilverStar thing? Sovereign Lake Nordic Club has 50km of trails hosting races in Silver Star provincial park. SilverStar Mountain Resort has lodging, an interconnected 50km of trail, and an alpine resort, but isn’t in the park.
The 1.2km loop used today is nicknamed the Beckie Scott course. In December 2005, Beckie Scott earned her first World Cup win in a skate sprint here. This was also Canada’s first dual WC podium when Sara Renner snatched a bronze medal. Nothing brings the passage of time into focus like realizing that both Scott’s and Renner’s children will be racing in the U16 group this weekend.