The Black Jack mini tour represented the final chance for Canadians to earn World Cup Period 2 starts. A timely week of snow and colder weather delivered great skiing conditions after an unusually warm November wreaked havoc on most of the western ski areas. That same warm weather canceled the Bozeman combined SuperTour/NorAm, which reduced the selection races from seven days to five.
Chelsea Holmes of Alaska Pacific University (APU) continued her winning ways in Canada, destroying the field in the 10-kilometre freestyle on Friday, placing fourth in the Saturday freestyle sprints, and holding off the field in the 15 k classic pursuit on Sunday with the second-fastest race time to complete the weekend with an aggregate time of 1:08:04.4.
Erika Flowers of the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) Elite team finished the weekend in second, 2:23.9 behind. Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) and Canadian National U25 Team took third, 0.2 seconds ahead of Katherine Stewart-Jones of the Thunder Bay National Team Development Centre (NTDC TBay). Bouffard-Nesbitt and Stewart-Jones will also be very close on the NorAm leaderboard, and one of them has earned a quota spot for World Cup Period 2.
In the men’s overall, Evan Palmer-Charrette (NTDC TBay) started the pursuit with a 37-second lead after winning the 15 k freestyle and placing third in the freestyle sprints. Palmer-Charrette held off the chasers to take the overall title and, most likely, the Continental Cup (COC) leader’s spot for World Cup Period 2.
Alexis Dumas of the Pierre Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH) charged up from a sixth-place start to grab second overall with the fastest time of the day, 52.2 seconds behind Palmer-Charrette. AWCA’s Jack Carlyle used the second fastest time of the day to take third overall, 1:10.1 back.
Friday: Freestyle Interval Start
In a reprise of the the previous Sunday’s event at Sovereign Lake, Holmes won the 10 k by an even larger margin, 1:49.4 minutes, finishing in 29:37.8.
“I love the courses here,” Holmes wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “Lots of steep climbing followed by technical downhills … very fun!”
She learned from her 31-second victory five days earlier: “Last week in the 10k I exploded into a million pieces at 5km, so I tried very hard to control myself in the first lap today.”
Flowers, who caught a ride with Holmes the previous week, moved up one place to second despite the larger time gap.
“I felt decent skiing (albeit a bit cold!) but definitely have some work to do on the downhills and keeping my tempo up on the hills,” Flowers wrote. “I tend to ski with a lot of glide so I am learning to turn it over a bit more when is cold like this and good glide is harder to come by.”
This would be the warmest day of the three, with a high of -12 degrees Celsius.
Bouffard-Nesbitt placed third (+2:27.2), and was already missing the deeper field of the previous weekend.
“When you have 2:27 separating the top 3, that’s not something you really want to see at the highest level of domestic racing,” Bouffard-Nesbitt wrote.
In the men’s 15 k, Palmer-Charrette made up for his head cold-induced DNF the previous weekend with the winning time of 40:36.7.
“Until today I had not had a strong distance race this year, so it was great to see the form come around.”
Palmer-Charrette was also missing the deeper SuperTour field.
“This weekend definitely is not as competitive […] as we had last weekend with the Americans in Sovereign Lake,” he wrote. “I’m disappointed [that] I was under the weather when we had the chance to race with them.”
Russell Kennedy (Team R.A.D.) was leading after 5 k before fading to second, 31.1 seconds back.
“I really wanted the win after the first lap but my body was feeling a little fatigued,” he explained in an email. “It was cold and the snow wasn’t very fast, but the weather was nice.”
Erik Carleton, of Rocky Mountain Racers and the Canadian Para-Nordic Ski Team, was happy with his third place, 56 seconds back, especially after a late arrival on Thursday.
“My teammate [and fellow Para-Nordic guide] Graham [Nishikawa] and I waxed our own skis, with the help of some good advice, and the outcome was positive,” Carleton wrote.
Carleton and Nishikawa have raced at a lot of venues, while guiding paralympian Brian McKeever and in their own domestic and World Cup careers, and are a good source for course comparisons.
“It was a fun and challenging course, with steeper climbs and slightly more technical downhills than most courses,” Carleton wrote of the Black Jack trails. “At -18C this morning, the snow was quite slow, especially on the steep uphills. If you had decent skis, the course was more of factor than the conditions. Climbing steep uphills with no glide was a key to a good race.”
SMS Elite’s Andy Newell, freshly arrived from the World Cup circuit, placed fourth (+1:08.9).
“It’s my goal to use these races to help get back into the feeling of racing again after such a rocky start to the season,” Newell wrote after Friday’s race. “I was happy with the way today went and they way my body felt.”
Newell is another athlete with wide experience of race courses: “Having just come off the world cup I can tell you that these courses here are top notch,” he wrote.
Saturday: Freestyle Sprint
Saturday brought a romantic result to a chilly day, with the affianced Flowers and Newell winning the women’s and men’s sprints, respectively.
Bouffard-Nesbitt won the qualifier and easily moved through to the A-final, but Flowers was first at the line.
“Olivia skied really well off the line and up the entire first half of the course-super smooth and strong,” Flowers wrote. “I was able to jump in behind her in second and tried to chase her down leading up to the high point of the course. By the top of the first big climb we had a sizable gap on the rest of the field but she was still a few meters ahead of me so I tried to ski hard over the top of the hill and free skate the downhill in order to chase her down. I was able to get right behind her going into the last little uphill and felt good coming off the downhill into the finish stretch for a drag race finish.”
The sprint course has some tricky descending which didn’t affect the top racers or Flowers’s enjoyment of the day.
“I did get to see a few epic crashes on the S-turns and I thought it was fun to join my fiance Andy on the top of the podium!” she wrote.
Bouffard-Nesbitt was also positive about her race, despite coming up 0.44 seconds short of the win.
“I’m pretty happy with my race today!” she wrote. “Definitely happy with my qualifier. I skied the final just like I skied the final in Silver Star — I left it all out on the course.”
Bouffard-Nesbitt found her legs were fading in the finishing stretch, after spending much of the summer on crutches.
Stewart-Jones placed third (+7.89), edging Holmes by four-hundredths of a second.
“Olivia and Erika skied impressively well, all day today!” Holmes wrote. “Olivia took the final out hard and Erika followed… I didn’t see much after that but the results tell the story!”
Maya MacIsaac-Jones (AWCA/NST U25 Team), who is recovering from a more-recent foot injury than Bouffard-Nesbitt, held off her NTDC TBay’s Annika Richardson by nearly 2 seconds for fifth (+10.65).
Newell won the men’s qualifier and every heat before topping the A-final in 2:44.81.
“I was happy with the race today,” he wrote. “The cold temperatures felt a little more manageable today and it was a great opportunity to race 4 hard rounds on a fun sprint course.
“It was my strategy to be in a front position to be able to charge up the second hill and gap the field, which was the strategy I used in all the heats,” he added
Former Black Jack racer Julian Locke (AWCA) was 1.05 back, outreaching Palmer-Charrette by 0.05 seconds.
“[CNEPH’s] Simon Lapointe was pushing pretty hard with Newell and Russell Kennedy with him,” Locke wrote. “I had to put on the gas halfway up [the first long hill] to get back with the leaders and stay in the race. I made contact with the group going over the top and then got behind Newell going over the small hill in the middle of the course, following him down through the twists and into the finish. Evan Palmer-Charrette had some good speed coming into the lanes and we had a fun lunge to the line.”
Kennedy was on the wrong side of the gap for fourth. Lapointe and NTDC TBay’s Angus Foster, who with Palmer-Charrette crashed out of the previous weekend’s sprint, rounded out the A-final in fifth (+6.26) and sixth (+6.97), respectively.
Sunday: Classic Pursuit
Sunday brought slightly warmer conditions for the 10/15 k classic pursuits, but the waxing was still straightforward with -13-degree Celsius air and colder snow.
Holmes started the 10 k pursuit with a 1:42 head start and kept the lead, finishing in 35:35.4, which stood as the second-fastest time of the day. Her race plan was simple.
“I think the expression is to go out ‘like a bat out of hell.’ ”she wrote on Saturday night.
On Sunday, she was feeling more contemplative after the race: “I have never started off the front in a pursuit and quite honestly it made for some different feelings out there… surprisingly lonely.”
Flowers was third on Sunday, 48.1 seconds back, but it was enough to maintain her second overall (+2:23.9).
“I wasn’t thrilled with my race today but it was a good mental challenge to get out there and play around with some classic skiing,” Flowers wrote. “I have some work to do there technically for sure and while I wasn’t pleased with how I skied, I now know where to focus some training energy over the next few weeks so that’s a good thing!”
Bouffard-Nesbitt was fifth-fastest on the day, 1:04.7 back, but was able to finish ahead of a flying Stewart-Jones by a scant 0.6 seconds for third on the mini-tour podium (+3:25.2).
Stewart-Jones was the fastest in the 10 k classic, 6.2 seconds ahead of Holmes, for fourth overall (+3:25.7).
“I was able to stay relaxed and set into a good pace on the first lap and really dig deep on the second,” Stewart-Jones wrote. “It took awhile to get into race shape but every race I have felt stronger. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season!”
Richardson was fourth-fastest of the day after starting fourth, dropping one place to Stewart-Jones who started 8 seconds behind her for fifth overall (+4:08.7).
Palmer-Charrette started the men’s 15 k classic pursuit with a 38-second lead over Kennedy.
“I skied smooth and relaxed at the front of the race,” Palmer-Charrette wrote. “I kept the pace quite conservative until the second half of the last lap just to ensure I had an extra gear in the tank in case someone started to bring back major time.”
Palmer-Charrette was very happy with his first time leading a pursuit and first mini-tour win. He finished 52.2 seconds clear of runner-up despite Dumas, who posted the fastest time of the day. (Palmer-Charrette’s time ranked fourth, 1:14.7 behind Dumas.)
“I was really happy with my weekend, mostly with how consistent I was able to ski all three days. Today I was pretty far off the win [for time of day], but skiing out front racing for the mini tour overall I didn’t quite leave it all out there,” Palmer-Charrette wrote.
Dumas started in sixth, 2:08 back, but was able to ski through to second after catching Kennedy, Newell, Carleton and Carlyle, all of whom started ahead of him. Carlyle had the second-best time of the day, 29.9 seconds slower than Dumas, to move from fifth to third overall (+1:10.1).
Carleton was third on the day, 1:01.2 back, and came within 0.8 seconds of catching Kennedy, who finished the mini tour in fourth overall (+1:20.8) after starting second.
“It was a good weekend,” Kennedy summarized. “I just couldn’t seem to hold it together in the classic but learned a lot and have some stuff to work on over Christmas!”
At the end of the three days of racing, there were a lot of positive comments, but as Holmes put it:
“I am very glad that I chose to come to Rossland to finish off my early season racing — all the girls were super great, Canmore Nordic (who helped me with wax for the weekend) and the venue, organizers and volunteers were top notch!”