And they’re off!
About 200 of the state’s younger Nordic ski racers waxed up at the Durango Nordic Center this weekend to race for a spot on the Rocky Mountain Nordic Ski Team and compete for a national title at the 2015 XC Junior Nationals later this year in Truckee, California.
While Durango was surrounded by a blanket of fog Saturday morning, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky over the race course about 30 miles north of town. The pit area around the 1.5-kilometer course was a flurry of activity with families and fans, as coaches, racers and team support stayed busy in between heats waxing their skis to adjust for the warming temperatures.
Eleven different junior ski clubs were represented from across the state.
Mina Anderberg, a 17-year-old racer from the Boulder Junior Nordic Race Team, called it one of her favorite competitive sports.
“It’s tough, and it’s fast, and you’re on the snow,” Anderberg said while catching her breath after a heat. “I’ve done my fair of sports, and this one is amazing.”
The race course at the Nordic center rolled up and down through dense woods. Skiers pulled and pushed themselves over the winding terrain. The demands of the competition were clear, and racers needed a moment to recover after each heat. With temperatures in the mid 30s, many athletes wore short sleeves.
Austin Ross, coach of Crested Butte’s Nordic Ski Team, grew up racing in Steamboat Springs and said he appreciates working with the developing athletes.
“There’s a wide range of abilities and ages here, and that’s what makes it so cool,” he said. “We have racers who are right on top of the game and others who are racing for their first time.”
Ross said he likes to give back, to pass on what he’s learned to the next generation.
“To share the experiences I had as a kid with the kids that I’m coaching now is special,” he said.
Mike Elliott, executive director of Rocky Mountain Nordic, a three-time Olympic Nordic skier and chief of competition for Saturday’s event, called Durango a bit off the beaten path but one of the most beautiful locations on the circuit. He said visitors enjoy the venue, but it’s getting here that’s the hard part for them.
“They love to come to Durango; they just don’t like the drive,” he said.
Races will continue throughout the day Sunday, meaning some of the trails will be closed to the public during the races.