Olympians hit the Summit | SierraSun.com

Olympians hit the Summit

Jason Kelley/Sierra SunCanadian National Ski Team members Chandra Crawford, right, and Perianne Jones train at Auburn Ski Club Tuesday morning.

The Canadian National Ski Team is in town ” and that wasn’t even part of the plan.

“It was kind of an accident, actually,” Ben Grasseschi, Auburn Ski Club and Far West Nordic head coach, said about how the Canadian Olympians were invited to the Nordic training session. “It kind of fell into our lap.”

That’s a good thing, though, Grasseschi said.

With plenty of snow on Donner Summit left over from a lingering winter, Grasseschi figured he’d send out e-mails to all the Nordic coaches he knew inviting teams to take part in a late-spring “camp” at Auburn Ski Club. Included in his contacts were the U.S. Ski Team and several junior Nordic programs throughout the West.

The Sun Valley (Idaho) Ski team jumped at the offer, arriving on Sunday with 16 Nordic skiers between the ages of 14 and 18.

“This is the only place in the country with snow,” said Muffy Ritz, assistant coach of the Sun Valley club.

The U.S. Ski Team opted out, but passed on the invitation to the Canadian National Team, which was more than welcome to train at Auburn Ski Club, Grasseschi said.

“I’m honored that they chose to come here. Everyone is very friendly and down to earth, and they’re all just really nice people,” Grasseschi said.

Likewise, the Canadian Nordic skiers ” based out of Canmore, Alberta, between Calgary and Banff ” are thrilled to be training on snow this time of year.

“This is awesome. It’s such a great opportunity for us to get on snow,” said 2006 Olympian Drew Goldsack. “Back home the snow has been gone for a month and a half.”

Canadian National Team member and 2006 Olympian Sean Crooks said that while there still is some snow near Canmore, most of it is in the form of glacier, and there are no groomed or salted trails to ski.

“Usually you have to search high and low for snow this time of year, so this has been great,” Crooks said.

About the weather: “It’s a little warmer than what it is in our part of the world,” he said.

So warm, in fact, the Canadians have already taken refreshing dips in the Truckee River, Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe since arriving last Thursday. The team, which is staying at the Cedar House of Truckee, leaves this Friday.

With temperatures hovering around 80 degrees during the day, Grasseschi said he was “pretty gun-shy about how much snow we’d have.”

For good reason. Although there’s a four- to five-foot of base in some spots, other areas are barely 6 inches deep, Grasseschi said.

“It’s not beautiful skiing, but it’s pretty good for this time of year,” he said.

Nobody is complaining.

“It’s pretty darn tropical temperatures, but that’s what we need to work on is skiing in slushy snow,” said Chandra Crawford, a gold medalist in the 1.1K sprint at the 2006 Olympics. “It’s great. This is a beautiful place.”

Canadian National Team coach Eric de Nys said he’d like to return to Auburn Ski Club in the future, if possible.

“Definitely,” he said when asked. “It’s not extremely cheap for us to come down here. But trying to ski every month is really key for us, so if the club organizes something next year, I’m sure we’ll be back.”

Grasseschi said they just might.

“If everybody is happy with what we’ve done and there’s enough snow, I think we’ll try,” he said.

Also on hand at Auburn Ski Club Tuesday morning were members of the local Far West Nordic team, including Truckee High graduating senior Matt Gelso.

“It’s pretty sweet,” Gelso said about the late-season skiing. “I haven’t skied in like two months.”

The 17-year-old will be on his skis often in the near future, as Gelso recently was nominated to the U.S. Ski team and is heading to University of Colorado next year on a full-ride scholarship.

“It’s definitely a bonus skiing with (the Canadian National Team), but I would have been out here anyway,” Gelso said Tuesday, just before hustling back to Truckee High for class.

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