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Rushing for Gold at Royal Gorge

Mark Nadell
Special to the Sun
Photo by Olof Carmel/Carmel StudiosCross-country skiers in the California Gold Rush pour out of the gates at Royal Gorge last weekend.
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The California Gold Rush has a reputation, well-deserved for many years, to be a spring slush-fest. Many years in the late 1980s and ’90s found snow conditions by the third lap of the contest to be knee-deep in creamed corn snow mush. But even though the Sierra Nevada still has an ample number of warm, late winter days, the past few years of this late-March classic have been anything but “spring-like.” Last year’s event even had its length and course shortened because of incredibly heavy snowfall before and during the race.

This year, with the Sierra having had more than its share of rain, warmth and low-snow conditions at times, the morning of the Gold Rush was found to be clear and cold (single-digit overnight temperatures) and basking in the accumulation of many feet of new, cold powder snow that had fallen in the past two weeks. A brisk easterly wind ensured that, even with bright sunshine throughout the morning, temperatures weren’t likely to rise very quickly. This made for consistent snow conditions for every race distance, from the quick 6-kilometer Junior Rush all the way through the 3-lap 50-kilometer Gold Rush.

The final event in the American Ski Marathon Series, the Gold Rush always attracts a good number of national-caliber athletes, including many of the “factory team” racers from across the country. Patrick Weaver, of the Subaru Factory Race Team, last won this event in 1999, and since then has placed second (twice), third and has won the Great Ski Race on multiple occasions.

Weaver finally got back on the top of the podium at Royal Gorge with a hard-fought win on Sunday. The final outcome, however, was never assured until the final sprint, when Weaver, a former U.S. Ski Team member who lives in Bend, Ore., got the best of fellow Salomon team racer and local hero Tav Streit, of Reno, by a mere three seconds. Benjamin Blaugrund, of Boulder, Colo., was close behind in third place, only seven seconds back of Weaver.

The women’s 50-kilometer race was another hard-fought affair, with four women jockeying for position throughout the three-lap course. Atomic Skis team member Suzanne King (also of Bend, Ore.), the 1996 and 1997 U.S. Cross-Country champion, found herself continually trading leads with three other competitors until she finally broke free at the beginning of the third lap. King never looked back, crushing the rest of the field by more than two minutes on the final lap to earn herself the ounce of gold that is awarded to the winner. Olympian Rebecca Dussault (Gunnison, Colo.), of the Subaru Factory Team, was the closest competitor, barely edging out Rossignol’s Christie Aschwanden to take the Silver medal.

“Suzanne was just too strong today,” Dussault said. “She was just gliding on her skis away from us whenever she took the lead, and we had to work hard just to keep up.”

Also on the bill for this day’s events was the shorter Silver Rush, a two-lap competition of 30 kilometers. Local Junior racer Alex Taylor, of Truckee, used a strong final kick in the stadium to barely outdistance Rossignol’s Chris Humbert, of Salt Lake City. Beth Reid, of Palo Alto, reprised her Great Ski Race win of two weeks ago by taking another 30-kilometer race, easily winning this distance over Marin’s Judy Rabinowitz. The 15-kilometer Bronze Rush found another Reid, as 16-year-old Carl Reid took the top honor over Truckee junior Jordan Nadell. Master Racer Debbie Hakansson, of Truckee, won her division handily over Brownsville junior Sara Violett. In the 6-kilometer Junior Rush, 13-year-old Miles Heapes, of Tahoe City, won for the boys while yet another Reid family member, this time 13-year-old Joanne Reid, won the girls division.

In addition to being a major event on the Far West Nordic race schedule, the Gold Rush is also the second largest fundraiser for the Far West Junior Program, with Royal Gorge donating all of the proceeds to both Far West and Auburn Ski Club. Full results are available on the Far West Nordic web site at http://www.farwestnordic.org.


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