The flakes of wax scattered about the snow as dozens of ski techs prepared nordic skis for the big race. The DU Invitational & SSCV Junior National Qualifier, one of the biggest nordic races in the Vail Valley, took place at Maloit Park in Minturn on Saturday and Sunday.
With 295 nordic racers ranging in ages from 6 years old all the way up to 26 years old, it was quite the scene out at Maloit. There was some amazing nordic talent with college teams from Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Montana, and Colorado coming out to compete.
On top of the collegiate athletes, junior level athletes came out looking to qualify a spot on the Rocky Mountain Nordic Junior National Team. The Vail locals once again proved strong at the competition. In particular, Ian Boucher and Parker McDonald from Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV) had an absolutely dominant performance in the 10 km Freestyle Individual Start and may have landed a spot on the National Team. Parker McDonald finished in 2nd place in the men’s J1 category on Saturday followed by Ian Boucher in third.
Parker McDonald is primarily known for taking Lindsey Vonn to his homecoming at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy in 2011. After this weekends performance, people may now know him as the incredible nordic skier…that took Vonn to homecoming.
“The race went really well today. I got a nice ride from a DU skier for the first two laps and just hung in there. The last two laps I was on my own and was just fighting to ski well,” said 17-year-old McDonald after the race on Saturday. As a student at VSSA, McDonald is able to go out and ski the course almost every day. “I’m really comfortable on these technical courses we have at Maloit,” says McDonald.
Boucher skied well alongside his friend McDonald. By making sure to save some gas in the tank he solidified a great result in the 10 km race on Saturday. “I wanted to make sure that right off the bat I wasn’t going to go out too hard and blow up. The hills on this course are intimidating and it is important to not get too eager and set an unachievable pace. Even though we are racing with college athletes, we aren’t directly racing against them. It is kind of nice being in the college races considering there are older kids to tow you up these hills and you get to chase them instead of going on your own pace,” says Boucher.
During the 15 km race on Sunday, McDonald and Boucher switched places, with Boucher ending up in 2nd and McDonald ending in 3rd. “Today was painful,” commented McDonald still out of breath immediately after the race. Even though Boucher lost his breakfast halfway through the grueling 15 km race, he did exceptionally well.
These nordic athletes are looking to establish enough points in the next month in order to qualify for the Rocky Mountain Junior National team. For the team, they take the 12 best OJ’s as well as the12 best J1’s, and J2’s in the region. There are four races, this being the first, where these juniors will earn the necessary points to qualify them for the team. The OJ level athletes are those that are 18 and 19, and the J1’s are 16 and 17. Once the dust has settled, and points are calculated, McDonald and Boucher, as well as others, will know if they made the cut for the team.
Sylvan Ellefson of SSCV was the big two-day winner. Ellefson won the men’s senior category on top of the overall category with a time of 26 minutes flat on Saturday. On day two of the event during the 15 km race, Ellefson won in a photo finish by 2 tenths of a second. Max Scrimgeour held it down for SSCV in the men’s OJ category with a solid 35-second win on Saturday as well as a category win during the 15 km race on Sunday. Joseph Barrett from Battle Mountain High School had a great performance with a solid 6th place finish in the men’s J1 category on Saturday and placed 14th in his category on Sunday.
Sunday was a great day for Vail Mountain School nordic skier Hannah Hardenbergh who placed 2nd overall in the women’s J1 10 km race. Hannah skated hard next to collegiate athletes, and ended up beating many of them. The High School Junior is on track to make the Junior National Team this season. “There was a little mix up at the start of the race, so I really just tried to put that behind me and make up the time as fast as I could during the race. Yesterday I sort of had a bad race, so I really wanted to improve today. It was nice to be able to push myself harder and do well today. I think it is really good for the junior skiers to put themselves against the college field because that is who most of the High School seniors from around here will be skiing against next year,” says Hardenbergh.
Nordic skiing is one of the most physically challenging skiing disciplines around. This intense aspect of the sport keeps these nordic skiers hooked and constantly establishing new goals as seen this past weekend out at Maloit.