Nordic ski racers busy over weekend | SierraSun.com

Nordic ski racers busy over weekend

Mark Nadell
Special to the Sun

Photo by Mark NadellTruckee varsity boys winner Alex Taylor leads the pack on the way to the back loop at Kirkwood last weekend.

Three big races in four days highlighted the nordic ski competition schedule in the Truckee-Tahoe area this past weekend.

From the CNISSF High School Freestyle event at Kirkwood Cross Country on Friday to the all-important Junior Olympic Qualifier Classic Sprint competition at Auburn Ski Club the next day to the Sierra Skogsloppet at Tahoe Donner Cross Country, there was racing for all ages and abilities.

The Kirkwood Freestyle event opened to beautiful sunshine and excellent snow conditions as more than 200 high school and middle school athletes showed up to compete in the first real individual points race of the season.

The crowd was large and vocal as the high schoolers skied a tough, hilly course behind the xc ski center. With Matt Gelso ” the boys varsity division favorite ” sitting this one out, the competition was hotly contested.

Alex Taylor, of Truckee, used a strong finish on the last climb to outdistance Danny Rodrigues, of Nevada Union, while Truckee skiers Spencer Wood, Daniel Gelso and Tyler Wright were close on their heels.

In the girls varsity division, Truckee’s Bernie Nelson returned home from the U.S. Nationals competition in Utah to take the first individual race of the season, winning by 6 seconds over Mammoth High’s Sophie Leonard. Leonard’s teammate, Dayna Stimso, came in third place.

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Truckee’s varsity girls were able to take six out of the top nine spots. In the JV division, Tom McElravey, of North Tahoe, edged out Truckee’s Andrew Pado by less than a second. Another North Tahoe athlete, Sage Clark, won the girls JV race.

In the middle school division, Sophie Aaron, of Alder Creek Middle School in Truckee, showed that she is the skier to beat this year, as she easily outdistanced teammates Annika Taylor and Cami Straw. Alder Creek’s girls took seven out of the top nine spots in the rankings while the boys took five out of the top six. Both teams seem well on their way to earning the overall team league championship. The boys were once again led by Russell Kennedy, of Alder Creek, who far outdistanced his competition in North Tahoe’s Miles Heapes and Alder Creek’s Ryan Zusy.

After a day of warm sunshine at Kirkwood, it was anything but warm and sunny the next morning for the important Junior Olympic Qualifier at Auburn Ski Club.

With a major snowstorm underway, cutting visibility and creating difficult conditions to ski in, this was the first in the series of four races to determine the Far West Nordic team that will travel to Houghton, Mich. for the 2006 Cross Country Ski Junior Olympics. While some of the juniors might have been holding back just a little at the high school event the day before, there was no holding back in this race as every junior participant had a lot at stake.

The format for the sprints is a little more involved than traditional ski races; all competitors ski one lap alone as a preliminary “time trial” to determine their seedings in the head-to-head competition. Racers with the top 24 times advance to the “heats” to determine the overall champion. But for many, the prelim was the race of the day because it alone determined the qualification for the Junior Olympic team. And having the competition be a classic, diagonal stride event was also a little different for the competitors.

In the end it was no surprise that Gelso, of Truckee, cruised through the preliminary round and two separate heats before crushing the field in the final competition. Gelso, fresh off of an incredibly successful week at U.S. Cross Country Ski Nationals ” where he was the top-ranked junior overall and secured a spot on the U.S. World Junior team heading to Slovenia this month ” was able to outlast senior division competitor Nick Grimmer, of Australia, and Truckee’s Alex Taylor to take the top spot.

For the women, Truckee’s Maisha Goodpaster, another U.S. Nationals veteran, put in the fastest preliminary time. Goodpaster then went on to outdistance the field throughout the heats and the final round to win the overall day’s title. Truckee junior Bernie Nelson was able to edge out Palo Alto’s senior division competitor, Brandy Stewart, for second-place finish on the day.

With a day off on Sunday to catch their breath, competitors were right back at it at Tahoe Donner Cross Country on Monday, competing in the popular Sierra Skogsloppet event.

Although a major fundraiser for the Truckee nordic school teams, this event was more for the adult crowd on the Far West race schedule. A very cold night with temperatures in the single digits led way to a slightly warmer, more humid early morning, with a light snowfall adding to the ambience of the race. Because of the low snow conditions, Tahoe Donner had to perform some incredible magic on the race course, and even started the event in waves in their “Kiddie Corrall” in order to get competitors safely on the race course, which is slightly less than 15 kilometers.

Although most of the juniors eschewed the competition itself, preferring to help organize and work the event, it was one junior and one senior division athlete who broke away from the field at the one-quarter mark and went head-to-head for the rest of the two-lap course. In the end, it was Jakub Benes, of Soda Springs, and Oakland, who was able to pull away in time to take the top spot from junior skier Carl Reid, of Palo Alto, last week’s winner at Auburn Ski Club. Two older Truckee masters skiers who showed that they still have what it takes to race took the next two spots, with Jeff Schloss just beating out Rick Reynolds in the final sprint to the finish line.

Palo Alto’s Beth Reid once again raced well in the women’s division and took a seventh-place overall while skiing with the men’s wave. Truckee’s Mel Scheefer had the second-fastest women’s time of the day, but was well off the pace of Reid’s blistering time. Debbie Hakansson, of Truckee, also skied with the men’s wave and was the third finisher for the women’s division. The one-lap competition was won by Gabrielle Joffe, of Marin, who narrowly beat out Joanne Reid, of Palo Alto. Master skier Maggie Fillmore, of Oakland, was third overall.

The next event on the local Far West Nordic schedule, the annual Sawmill Race, is next Sunday at Northstar Cross Country. The 15-kilometer freestyle event is a fundraiser for the Far West Nordic juniors. In addition, it’s also another Junior Olympic Qualifier to determine the Far West team for this March. For more information and complete results on the Far West race schedule, go to http://www.farwestnordic.org.