Nordic racing | Tahoe XC racing team boasts nine locals taking on nation’s best at Junior Nationals | SierraSun.com

Nordic racing | Tahoe XC racing team boasts nine locals taking on nation’s best at Junior Nationals

Tim Hauserman
Special to the Sun

The best 14- to 19-year-old cross-country skiers in the nation are competing at Auburn Ski Club this week in the 2015 Junior National Championships.

Right in the mix with the other 400 racers coming from the powerhouses of the Nordic world such as Alaska, Maine, and Colorado are members of the 2014-15 Far West Ski Team, mostly composed of athletes from around Tahoe-Truckee.

In addition to representing the region, the skiers belong to various premier ski-training programs within the Far West region, including Auburn Ski Club, Sugar Bowl Academy, Team Unleashed — and one of the newest and largest entrants, Tahoe Cross Country.

The Tahoe XC Devo and Comp teams are the brainchild of Valli Murnane, the director of the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Education Association, an affiliate of Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area.

With the popularity of Tahoe XC's Strider Gliders, which each year introduces more than 200 preschool to fifth-grade children to cross-country skiing, Murnane saw an opportunity for those kids who fell in love with the sport to take their skiing to the next level.

The program begins at sixth grade and includes a Development Team, which is the first stage of training, and the Competition Team, which includes the top racers.

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The athletes not only come from all over the North Shore, but one even moved to North Tahoe from the South Shore for the opportunity to be a part of the team.

'WE MIX IT UP AND KEEP IT FUN'

This past year, with the addition of full-time head coach Wilson Dippo and assistant coach James Crimp, the program has grown to 29 students.

They have been training since June for this week's Junior Nationals. The Comp team trains four times a week (plus an additional two days a week with their Middle or High School Nordic programs).

In the summer, the athletes run, roller ski, hike and mountain bike.

"We mix it up and keep it fun," Dippo said. "Most practices end with some sort of game which requires dynamic movement, like Ultimate Frisbee."

Then in the winter, the children ski a lot, usually traveling to various local ski areas and events in the Tahoe XC van, which was provided through the generosity of a number of sponsors.

"It's not all about competing — it's about having a goal, figuring out the steps to achieve that goal and then putting the steps into action," Dippo said.

Of the 11 members on the Tahoe XC Comp Team, nine qualified to race in this week's Junior Nationals.

Dippo says the team found a lot of success this year, with almost every Comp member finding him or herself on the podium at least once during the season.

But Junior Nationals, he says, "are an eye-opening experience."

"We are mixing it up with much more competition then anything they've done before," Dippo said. "There are a lot of really excellent skiers."

A DECADE OF GROWTH

Comp team member JC Schoonmaker, of Tahoe City, began his cross-country skiing career in kindergarten with the Tahoe XC Strider Glider program.

By the time he reached middle school, he began to shine and win races.

"I got close to my teammates and Wilson," Schoonmaker said of the Comp Team. "We all kind of push each other, but everyone is always having fun. We only take it seriously when we need to."

Like Schoonmaker, teammate Quinn Lehmkuhl also began skiing with Strider Gliders as a 5-year-old. Often she was the quiet girl in a group of older boys, who she had no trouble keeping up with.

Now in high school, since working with Dippo and Crimp, she says, "my technique and strength have gotten much better. The practices are difficult but they make it really fun."

The power of training, she says, can be found in the results.

"The people doing well in the middle and high school races are mostly on the Comp and Devo Teams," Lehmkuhl said.

Lehmkuhl says she has enjoyed seeing the amazing athletes who are competing at the event and is looking forward to socializing with them at a dance for all the competitors after the closing ceremonies.

Between the loss of its beloved manager, Kevin Murnane, and the second year in a row of truly dismal snow conditions, it's been a very tough year at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area.

But the Tahoe XC Devo and Comp teams have been a shining beacon, and an opportunity for the members of the Tahoe XC community to find joy.

— Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He remembers fondly the days when he was coaching fifth-graders Quinn and JC in Strider Gliders, and he could still ski faster than them. Those days are long gone. He may be reached at writeonrex@yahoo.com.