VAIL, Colo. Riding the high of a very successful season, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athletes travelled to Donner Summit in California last week to take part in the Cross Country Skiing Junior Nationals. Emma Reeder, Haley Brewster, Molly Blakslee, Elsa Perkins, Katy Jane Hardenbergh, Allison Bennett, Izzy Glackin, Dimitri Grewal,Vlad Shambarger, Tyler Wright and Cole Flashner qualified to compete in this prestigious event which brought together the top junior Nordic skiers in the country between the ages of 14 and 20.

“To have some of our athletes return to Junior Nationals and be at such a high quality venue at altitude is always a great thing,” said head coach of the Nordic program at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, Eric Pepper. “But to be there alongside racers who are going for the first time and are looking to improve on past results –  it’s an awesome opportunity for us as a team.” 

And while the competition was cancelled mid-way amidst concerns of COVID-19, all those that attended made the best of the two days of racing they were allotted. 

The first day of competition began with a classic interval start race, with each skier taking to the 5 km course in intervals. In both the U16 and U18 age divisions, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV) athletes shined.

Among the 94 female U18s that competed in the individual start classic event, SSCV’s Emma Reeder and Haley Brewster tackled the course with intensity, coming in 2nd and 4th respectively. Teammate Molly Blakslee, clinched a spot among the top 15 with her 13th place finish. The female U16 age division was similarly stacked with 74 competitors, but Elsa Perkins showed no fear in her race strategy. The 16-year-old outshined 71 competitors to finish the day with a bronze medal around her neck. Among the U16 boys, Tyler Wright pushed through the pain to finish in 8th, the highest placement of the Rocky Mountain Division athletes for the day.

On Wednesday, March 11, the cross country skiers participated in what would be the final event of the competition: the skate sprint. Following the qualifier round, the top 30 racers moved on to the quarterfinals. After the quarterfinals, the top 2 finishers of each heat moved on to semifinals and then to A and B finals.

Among the U18 females, Reeder and Brewster continued the success they had seen in the classic interval race in the qualifying round, taking 2nd and 7th respectively. In their individual heats, Brewster took 3rd but advanced on a lucky loser position into the semifinals and then finished off the day in 9th place. Reeder grabbed 2nd in her heat and finished just a couple seconds behind Brewster in the finals, securing her position in 11th place. Blakslee also excelled in the sprint and came in 18th place overall. 

U16 Elsa Perkins went into the sprint with the championship mindset she had demonstrated the day before, finishing the qualifier round in 2nd and ending the day in 6th place. Teammate and fellow U16, Tyler Wright also did well in the qualifiers and went on to grab 28th out of 71. 

Following the two days of competition, the SSCV women’s program was additionally bestowed a 2nd place club award based on the success their athletes had seen between the two events. 

When all was said and done, Eric Pepper had this to say about the event, “It was an interesting week. I can not recall ever having the event schedule cut short, but such are the times. Obviously there was some disappointment there as those last two events were strong ones for us, but we try to do what is best. I am very proud of what we accomplished during the event and program wide throughout the season.”