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The Pre-Race Scene at Senior Nationals

 

The men's freestyle sprint final at last year's U.S. nationals in Houghton, Michigan.

The men’s freestyle sprint final at last year’s U.S. nationals in Houghton, Michigan.

SOLDIER HOLLOW, Utah.–Conditions on the ground at Soldier Hollow (SoHo)? Cold.

Sipping an espresso in Deer Valley and checking weather temps in SoHo about 20 miles south, the temps on the phone read -12 degrees fahrenheit at 9:30 a.m. in Midway, Utah —  Midway is located only a few miles from the SoHo race venue. On his blog, Zach Caldwell said it was -18 degrees when he began testing. Cold.  

Throughout the day, snow guns blasted creating a mix of man-made snow to go along with the recent natural snow.

The course for tomorrow’s distance races, a women’s 10-kilometer freestyle and men’s 15 k skate, is stout; steep punchy climbs, a long grueling uphill, and little rest or recovery to balance the lactate loads. Although not the same 5 k loop to be raced during World Juniors contested from Jan. 28 – Feb 5, 2017 at SoHo, Saturday’s distance course meets international racing standards.

For veteran U.S. nationals athletes, like Jennie Bender of the Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF), the chance to race a new course, but familiar venue is warmly welcomed.

“I’m excited that I’ve been feeling good with my distance skiing so, I’m looking forward to tomorrow as well as the classic sprint,” Bender said to FasterSkier on Friday. “This is a big week for all of us and I’m excited to be back in Soldier Hollow.”

Nineteen year-old Stratton Mountain School skier Katharine Ogden is in SoHo not for World Junior qualification, she’s pre-qualified, but for some race strategy reinforcement.

“For this series I don’t have too many concrete goals because I auto-qualified for World Juniors, Ogden told FasterSkier in Soldier Hollow on Friday. “Now it is more getting the hang of racing here and trying to have some sweet races, but there is not much riding on it for me.”

Although the pressure may be dialed back a degree for the former Junior Worlds participant, Ogden said she still has some task at hand. “I think what I will work on will be trying to dial in the pacing and know how to get close to the redline, but not blow up,” Ogden added. “I’ll be  practicing that, which is much harder here than at home at sea level.”

Soldier Hollow’s top point sits a few hundred feet shy of 6,000 feet.

U.S. Ski Team (USST) development coach, Bryan Fish is attending Senior Nationals as both a USST representative here to calculate points for potential World Junior, U-23 Worlds, and World Championship qualifiers, as well serving as a race juror. Part of his USST role is to shepherd skiers like Ogden who have pre-qualified. FasterSkier asked Fish, who works with Ogden on the U.S. Ski Team D-team, what advice he’ll be giving her.

“This is not just this week, the year and year after year is to always learn,” Fish said. “To learn and make sure what you are learning out there is pacing, we are racing at altitude. She typically has been a good altitude racer. But it is a different course and it takes some different pacing on some long climbs and that is one of her strengths. So one of the things that I will tell her to is make sure that she is appropriately pacing it, staying consistent, staying smooth and continuing to think in the mood set that this is one race, it is an important race, it is Nationals. But this is one step along the path way.”

Another coach here mentoring, inspiring and guiding athletes towards their season goals is Alaska Pacific University (APU) head coach, Erik Flora. While Ogden’s prequalification may take some pressure off her performances, for Flora’s athletes and many other competitors, much more is at stake. As Flora explained, the week may mean World Cup racing is on the horizon, or that it’s time to head home to hone in on training.

“In the U.S. this is a pretty good pivot point in the season,” Flora told FasterSkier in Soldier Hollow on Friday. “If someone races really well, they get to go on to [World] Championships. If they don’t, then it’s time to go home and start working…[towards] the next step.”

For many of Flora’s top athletes — including Chelsea Holmes, Scott Patterson, the Hanneman brothers, Reese and Logan, as well as junior skiers Thomas O’Harra, and Hunter Wonders — making teams, such as U-23s or World Juniors, rides on their results this week.

“I think just about every single [APU athlete here] is coming here trying to make a team,” Flora added. “A lot of the season is on the line.”

The women’s 10 k kicks-off at 9:00 a.m. MST sharp Saturday morning, while the men’s 15 k is scheduled to start at noon MST. Live timing will be provided for the event and may be found here.

–Jason Albert and Gabby Naranja

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