Vying for gold at Royal Gorge | SierraSun.com

Vying for gold at Royal Gorge

Copyright Nick Brown PhotographyTruckee's Ben Grasseschi races to a first-place finish in the Bronze Rush on Sunday.

The Gold Rush has a long and storied history in the memories of top cross country ski racers from around the country. Sometimes referred to as the “Slush-Fest” in California, top skiers from around the country have returned home over the years with tales of ankle-deep corn snow throughout the second half of this 50-kilometer marathon-plus ski race.

The past couple of years, however, have put the kibosh on those memories, with the 2005 edition held during a major snowstorm, necessitating a major course change, and the 2006 race held in cold, blustery, mid-winter-like conditions.

This year’s race, held on Sunday, had great potential for a return to the old standard of warmth and sunshine, but a couple of factors helped make the course conditions into near-record speeds and hair-raising descents.

An 8 a.m. start combined with the new Daylight Savings Time meant that skiers were well off the course by the time the snow conditions slowed, and a fast, sometimes icy track kept everyone literally on their toes for almost the entire race.

The Gold Rush is also known for attracting some of the best racers in the country, as it is the culmination of the American Ski Marathon Series, and is still considered a large feather in the cap of the ultimate winner of this individual race. And this year, one of the most decorated U.S. skiers still on the national circuit made it his own personal playground, with Carl Swenson of the Subaru Factory Team finally tiring of the cat-and-mouse game of follow the leader, breaking up the pack with a vicious attack midway through the race and challenging everyone else to hold on to his pace.

Swenson, a three-time Olympian and 11-time National title holder from Salt Lake City, simply bided his time for more than 20 kilometers before letting it fly and skiing to an 11-second win over his nearest competitors, Adam Swank and Nikolai Anikin, both from Duluth, Minn. Swenson finished with a near-record time of 1:57:01, one of the few times this course has been skied in under two hours.

The top local male finishers were Tav Streit of Reno (seventh overall), the winner of the season-long Fischer Cup local race series, Carl Reid (eighth) of Palo Alto, fresh off his impressive Great Race and Junior Olympics races, and the ageless Rick Reynolds (10th) of Truckee.

While usually noted for its fierce competition among the national factory racers, this year the women’s 50K race was never in doubt. Palo Alto’s Beth Reid, undefeated in every local race this year and the winner of the Great Ski Race, skied away from the rest with ease, vying with the top male skiers throughout the first lap, and cruised to an easy victory over her nationally-ranked rivals with a time of two hours, 10 minutes and 48 seconds.

“I thought the course was tremendous today,” Reid said. “Some of those descents were a little scary, but they did a great job getting groomed. I had a lot of fun skiing today.”

Second-place Martina Stursova from the University of New Mexico was never in sight while powering her way along the course, easily outdistancing Subaru’s Kate Underwood.

One of the greatest aspects of the Gold Rush is the fact that it is a race for any age skier, with distances ranging from 6 kilometers to 50. Many of the top local racers sometimes choose the 30-kilometer Silver Rush as their goal, and this year, as it has been for the past three, the winner was a local junior, Spencer Wood of Truckee, fresh from his week of Junior Olympics in Utah, finishing with a time of 1:18:11.

The second-place man more than six minutes behind was his Truckee and Far West teammate Alex Ferneyhough, while Michael Svalberg of Auburn was third. For the women, Denver University racer and former Far West top junior Kara LaPoint took third overall with a time of 1:27:51 in her women’s division win, with Coreen Woodbury of Bend taking second and Susan Reynolds of Truckee notching third place.

The 15-kilometer Bronze Rush went to Far West Nordic Head Coach Ben Grasseschi in a time of 40:53. Grasseschi, still recovering from the effects of a week with 32 young athletes in Utah, used his experience and guile to cruise away from his two Tahoe City Junior competitors, Miles Heapes and Tom McElravey.

Far West Juniors Gabrielle Joffe of Kentfield, took the Bronze medal crown for the women, with Joanne Reid of Palo Alto and Janelle Webb of Applegate coming in second and third, respectively.

The 6-kilometer Junior Rush boys title went to Clark Webb of Applegate in a time of 15:47, followed by Jordan McElroy of Truckee and Patrick McElravey of Tahoe City. For the girls, it was Robyn Bath-Rosenfeld winning with a time of 17:33, followed by Rachell Nadell and Emma Bockius, both from Truckee.

As always, Royal Gorge teamed up with Far West Nordic and Auburn Ski Club to put on an event worthy of its national ranking. A major fundraiser for the local Junior Nordic teams, Royal Gorge donated all the proceeds from the event to both of those non-profit organizations.

Next week features the 10th Mountain Division Biathlon race at Auburn Ski Club, a unique Olympic event that combines fast cross country ski racing with accurate rifle shooting, and April marks the great Mammoth Marathon. Check out http://www.farwestnordic.org for complete results and information for all the races.

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