VERNON, B.C. — It might’ve been the first Canadian NorAm of the season, but the Americans made it all about themselves in what also doubled as their second stop on the U.S. SuperTour circuit this past weekend at the Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre.
U.S. skiers kept Canada off the podium in the classic sprints and freestyle intervals starts on Saturday, Dec. 10, and Sunday, Dec. 11, with Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt, of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) and Canadian U25 Team, coming closest in fourth on Day 1.
On Saturday, Bouffard-Nesbitt started off the very first NorAm race, a 1.2 k classic sprint, with a qualifying win. She went on to advance in second in her quarterfinal and third in her semifinal, before finishing fourth in the A-final, 1.49 seconds out of first.
American Julia Kern of the Vermont-based Stratton Mountain School (SMS) Elite Team (formerly the T2 Team) won the women’s final in 3:17.04, after qualifying fifth and placing second in both her quarterfinal and semifinal. Kern led two Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP) teammates, Liz Guiney and Kaitlynn Miller, in second (+0.67) and third (+0.91) on the podium, respectively.
Bouffard-Nesbitt led the six finalists into the finishing straight after opening up a wide gap at the top of the second climb.
“Yeah, those Americans,” Bouffard-Nesbitt told FasterSkier after the race. “I was in first until we hit the final finishing straight, and then I just got out-double poled by three of the girls.”
Kern, a U.S. Ski Team Development Team member and Dartmouth student, credited tactical choices for her victory.
“In the quarterfinal, I made the mistake of not taking the outside, which turned into the inside turn on the second downhill,” Kern said.
The second downhill on Sovereign’s sprint course has a gentle right turn leading into a high-speed left, followed by the long climb and then two sharp left turns to the finish. Keeping control of the inside for the last three turns gave Kern the ideal position to take the second skied-in finish lane to cross the line first.
Guiney followed Kern to second, leaving Miller with the fresh snow in lane three.
“I was in third the first half of the course, just stayed in the mix,” Miller said of the final. “I really like the striding hill at the end.”
Despite being slowed in the final straight, Miller loved the conditions.
“This course is really nice, the conditions are awesome,” she said. “I love all the fresh snow. We had really great skis today, so that always helps.”
While Bouffard-Nesbitt was disappointed that there wasn’t a Canadian on the podium, she was happy with her day.
“I haven’t really sprinted this year,” she said, referring to a stress fracture in her foot that put her on crutches for several months this summer. “The intensity I’ve done since I’ve been back on my feet has been almost exclusively controlled Zone 3.”
The fourth American in the top five, Jennie Bender of the Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF) qualified third and finished fifth overall (+3.8). The SuperTour leader after West Yellowstone’s first two races of the season, she was disappointed with fifth.
“It was a tough field out there,” Bender said. “It’s a really short course, lots of turns, three different 180-degree turns. I kind of got swallowed up on the last downhill and lost a little gusto.”
Asked if she was tempted to double-pole the course, Bender laughed and said, “I was! I might of been interested to do it during the qualifier, but I was third, and yeah, I’ll keep the striding.”
A third Craftsbury skier in the A-final, Heather Mooney qualified ninth and went on to finish sixth in the final (+19.84).
“It’s a really fun course, fun with lots of transitions,” Mooney said. “Off the start of the final, I was really excited that we had three from our team. I just didn’t quite have it at the beginning, caught back up a little bit, but I was definitely on and off the back of the pack. Came in last, but it was a good day.”
All six of the women’s B-finalists were American, with Becca Rorabaugh of Alaska Pacific University (APU) ultimately placing seventh, Erika Flowers (SMS Elite) eighth, Mary O’Connell (CGRP) ninth, Jessica Yeaton (APU) 10th, Mary Rose of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) 11th, and Anne Hart (SMS Elite) 12th.
Maya MacIsaac-Jones, who had earned the opportunity to race World Cup Period 1, raced the NorAm sprint after sesamoiditis changed her early season plans.
“I definitely wasn’t skiing as fast as I would like to be,” MacIsaac-Jones said, “but I am definitely just happy to be racing and on snow.”
She was eliminated after placing fifth in her quarterfinal and skipped the 10 k freestyle on Sunday for a distance training session instead.
The men’s classic sprint shared the same 1.2 k course and the same American domination of the podium after a semifinal crash took three Canadians out of contention.
Reese Hanneman (APU) double poled to the win in 2:38.08 after qualifying 15th. Cole Morgan (SVSEF) and Ben Saxton (SMS Elite) rounded out the podium in second (+0.87) and third (+1.92), respectively.
“I had a really bad qualifier, for me. I chose a classic ski,” Hanneman said of his qualification round. “But I think [grip wax] was much slower, as the heats showed.”
He described the A-final as fast from the start.
“I had a decent start; I was in second behind Cole up until the top of the first climb. I made a pass, double poled by him, and I was kind of leading into the big climb,” Hanneman recalled.
“Then he and I were side by side, one and two, with a little gap. Then up the steep pitch, he took the lead and I tucked in behind him and just followed him over the bridge. I was able to close down the gap and then pass him and then turn on the jets coming in the final double-pole section.”
Morgan, who won the qualifier and was one of the four others on skate skis in the final, was also pleased with his tactics.
“I did the same tactic as I did in every heat, try to be in second place coming into the big downhill before the last hill,” Morgan said. “[I] was able to lead over the top, but didn’t have the same finish as Reese did.”
Saxton double poled all four laps, as did Hanneman, Morgan and many of the top men.
“I think that was the faster call, but it was definitely a physical task those last heats there,” Saxton said.
Another double poler in the final, the University of Denver’s Moritz Madlener ended up fourth (+1.92) after qualifying third.
“Considering how much we trained the last couple of weeks, it was a great result,” he said.
For Madlener, who is originally from Germany, this marked his first visit to Canada.
“This is German territory. The last time there was a World Cup here, the first five were Germans,” he said, probably not realizing that it was 11 years to the day since that 30 k pursuit event.
The lone finalist on grip wax, Matt Gelso (SVSEF) finished fifth (+3.88) after winning his crash-marred semifinal. Antoine Briand of the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH) was the lone Canadian in the A-final, with a lucky loser time that was faster than Gelso’s winning time from the other semifinal.
For a few Canadian athletes, the crash in the second semifinal was the defining moment of the day. Only 50 metres into the race, Gelso used his inside position in the tight pack to pull in front of Angus Foster, of the Thunder Bay National Team Development Center (NTDC), but Gelso skied over Foster’s ski, triggering a chain reaction.
“[Gelso] got through, but I went down, had two other Canadians go down with me,” Foster said after. “Probably the hardest crash we’ve ever had.”
Foster fell sideways in front of NTDC teammate Evan Palmer-Charrette.
“I just got unlucky, [Foster] fell right in front of me, and I just pitchforked over him, got the wind knocked out of me pretty bad,” Palmer-Charrette said. “Unfortunate, but that’s racing.”
CNEPH’s Simon Lapointe was the third skier in the tangle. Lapointe got up quickly, but a broken binding required him to wait for a coach to run over with a spare ski.
Palmer-Charrette was slow to get up, leaving Foster pinned in place. Foster finished the heat with three holes in the back of his race bib and likely a few ski-shaped bruises underneath.
Lapointe, one of the top Canadians sprinters, was the most frustrated with the semifinal crash. He left the finish area with a quick French-language “nothing to say” before going on to win the B-final by 1.06 seconds over Palmer-Charrette in 2:43.31.
None of the three Canadians protested to the jury member at the finish. Asked directly about whether there was cause for a protest, Foster said “That wasn’t a clean move, but that happens. People make mistakes. Still frustrating, but….”
Gelso was surprised to find only one skier with him at the top of the second climb. “We both went for a track at the same time, and I don’t know what happened,” Gelso said later, “but I’ve been on both ends of that.”
Everyone interviewed spoke favorably of the combined NorAm/SuperTour weekend.
“It’s really nice to get some deeper fields, to get the Americans and Canadians racing together,” Foster said. “It wasn’t so fun to watch the podium here.”
Day 1 results: Classic sprint brackets
Day 2 at Sovereign proved to be more populated with Americans sweeping the top five and nearly the top 10 in the men’s and women’s distance freestyle interval starts.
In the men’s 15 k, Scott Patterson (APU) topped the field by 13.2 seconds with a winning time of 40:00.2. Gelso reached the podium in second — his third this season in four SuperTour races — and Tad Elliott (Ski Club Vail) placed third (+26.6).
The U.S. swept the top eight with Brian Gregg (Team Gregg) in fourth (+54.8), Paddy Caldwell (SMS Elite/Dartmouth/USST) in fifth (+1:20.5), Ben Lustgarten (CGRP) in sixth (+1:27.4), Madlener in seventh (+1:31.3), and Kyle Bratrud (CXC Team) in eighth (+1:33.5).
Russell Kennedy of the Canmore-based Team R.A.D. was the top Canadian* in ninth (+1:38.8), and John Hegman (SVSEF) finished 10th (+1:44.2).
(*While Kennedy lives and trains in Canada, he is originally from Truckee, Calif.)
Out of 112 finishers in the men’s race, nearly 50 were American, and two were Australian national team members.
“Gelso’s definitely in good shape so it was good to hear splits out there that I was leading,” Patterson said. He started in bib 94 behind Gelso in bib 80.
“Fifteen k skate’s kind of been my game, one race I can always fall back to and know I can ski pretty fast,” Patterson added.
Asked about the event doubling as a SuperTour, he said it added competition.
“I would have loved to see the Canadians in West [Yellowstone], but it’s a weird course, makes sense to skip it,” he said of the SuperTour’s usual first stop on the circuit (one of the few places in the U.S. with reliable early season snow) at the Rendezvous Ski Trails in West Yellowstone, Mont. The SuperTour opener was originally scheduled for Bozeman, Mont., which would have been a NorAm as well, but moved because of low snow.
“It’s always fun to have a bunch of people that you don’t know all that well,” Patterson added. “This is my first time in Silver Star and it’s been great. Real winter, and we’ve been lacking that in Anchorage [Alaska].”
After spending a good chunk of last season in Europe on the World Cup, Patterson noted that even those venues tend to rely on manmade snow.
“It’s nice to have dumping snow out here,” he said.
“I think the third lap, things started to slow down,” Patterson added about the race itself. “I was getting ice through my glasses and eyes. It made things feel a little more closed in, feel like it’s snowing harder. I think it slowed down a little bit, but maybe that’s just getting tired, too.”
Gelso recalled a slower last lap as well, but was pleased with his effort.
“It’s a great course, and it was fun,” he said.
Gelso was strongly in favor of combining the two North American circuits whenever possible, recalling a conversation he had with some U.S. and Canadian national-team members at 2015 World Championships.
“Devon Kershaw and a bunch of the Canadians and Americans were staying in the same hotel, and we were talking about how cool … instead of having one Canadian, one American that goes to the World Cup on the Continental Cup, why [doesn’t the International Ski Federation] give North America three spots for Canada and the US, and all of our races are together?” he said. “Sometimes it will be three Americans, sometimes it will be three Canadians, sometimes it will be two and one, whoever’s racing fast. The more we are racing together, I think the better we’re going to fare internationally.”
“I mean, we’re friends with these guys, we know who they are,” Elliott said of racing with Canadians. “Michael Somppi, Kevin Sandau, they’ve been visited us at U.S. nationals last year. Silver Star’s gorgeous, great skiing, great course, well-run races, so it’s always a pleasure to visit here.”
Elliott, a former U.S. Ski Team distance skier, described feeling surprised with his effort on Sunday after what he called a “great sprint” in West Yellowstone (in which he placed 14th) followed by a head cold, which forced him to skip the West Yellowstone distance race.
“I rested all week indoors, and I felt incredible today,” he said.
Kennedy in ninth called his race a solid start, but had hoped to finished a “little higher up.”
“The U.S. guys are skiing super-strong right now, you could just see it out there,” Kennedy said. “I thought I was skiing pretty well, and then got some splits off of Gelso, and OK, they’re moving. I am hoping when we have [World Championships] trials in Park City, we’ll be a little bit more up there, but we’ll see. It’s good to have that competition, too. You can’t rest anywhere, you have to push everywhere, so that’s good.”
Asked about the NorAm/SuperTour combo, he was also positive.
“It’s good for us to have the extra competition and it’s good to race new faces,” Kennedy said. “Especially in sprints, you get used to the same tactics from the same people. When you have someone new, it’s nice to have to adjust your tactics and be prepared for what they’re going to do when you don’t know them as well. In distance, it’s really cool to have new guys to chase. I can kind of know the Canadians, what’s happening with them, but I was chasing down David [Norris] today, and he kind of surprised me how strong he was on the last lap, it was good to have that extra push, for sure.”
The second-fastest Canadian man of the day, Alexis Dumas (CNEPH) placed 15th (+2:13.1).
“I feel really fast on the one-skate, and the uphill was good, too,” Dumas said after. “I improved a lot my offset this summer, so it was good for this course.”
In terms of season goals, he’s looking to qualify for U23 World Championships, where he’d like to achieve a top 20.
In the women’s 10 k, Chelsea Holmes (APU) took the win in 30:42.9, topping the time of the race’s previous leader, Katharine Ogden (SMS Elite) by 13.4 seconds. Stratton had two on the podium with Flowers in third, 36.4 seconds back from Holmes.
“The course was really hard, but my techs and coaches gave us really good skis,” Holmes said after. “Today, I had the most amazing team, all the boys finished and they were cheering so hard.”
Holmes started 30 seconds after Flowers and 1 minute behind her APU teammate Rosie Frankowski.
“Chelsea started right behind me, and her and Frankie [Frankowski] and I all skied together for most of it, which made it a lot more fun cruising through the snow,” Flowers recalled. “We had a good little crew going, so it was hard, but hard with friends.”
Frankowski finished with Holmes and 59.9 seconds off her winning time in sixth place, behind Gregg in fourth (+40.8) and Rose in fifth (+51.7). APU had three in the top seven with Rorabaugh in seventh (+1:09.8). Craftsbury’s Guiney placed eighth (+1:17.9), Deedra Irwin (SVSEF) was ninth (+1:18.4), and Kern, Saturday’s sprint winner, 10th (+1:24.8).
For the second day in a row, Bouffard-Nesbitt was the top Canadian woman, placing 13th (+1:51.8). Of the top 20, the U.S. swept all but three places: 13th, 18th with NTDC’s Annika Richardson, and 20th with Sovereign Lake’s own Hannah Mehain. (Both Richardson and Mehain belong to Canada’s Junior National Team.)
“I’ve never had an easy race at Silver Star,” Bouffard-Nesbitt said after Sunday’s 10 k. “It was really hard as usual. To be honest, all morning, I feel pretty wrecked from yesterday’s race. Whole body, that sprint really took a toll on me. I was kind of just trying to play the hand I was dealt the best I could, make the most of it. I think I’m happy with it.”
Asked how she felt about being the top Canadian for the second-straight day, albeit outside the top 10, she replied, “Let’s say, bittersweet. Obviously, we want to have Canadians represented at the top of these fields, among the Americans, but of course I’m happy to be top Canadian.”
Regardless, she was glad to have the competition.
“We not coming here to have easy wins; we’re coming here to be challenged,” Bouffard-Nesbitt said. “I’m very happy to have them here, and I’m very happy when they can show us what fast racing looks like.”
Sixty-two women finished the distance race, and about half were American. Most of the NorAm field is headed to Rossland, B.C., for next weekend’s NorAm, which is not a SuperTour and will not count toward the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association’s (USSA) national ranking list.
Day 2 results: 10/15 k freestyle