11 Vail Nordic skiers make Cross-County Junior Nationals in Alaska
VAIL — The U.S. Cross-Country Junior National Championships is always the big event on the calendar for Nordic athletes each year, but this year a spot in the event is especially coveted since it’s being held in Alaska.
“It’s a unique place to get to go,” said Ski & Snowboard Club Vail coach Eric Pepper. “You’re right in front of the ocean at the race venue, it’s a pretty cool spot.”
Ski & Snowboard Club Vail has qualified nearly a dozen athletes so far, and Pepper said more athletes may be confirmed in the coming weeks.
Athletes are qualified through their performances at qualifying events which took place over the last eight weeks.
Program director Dan Weiland said preparing for those races, for many athletes, is the culmination of nearly a year of training.
For coaches, having the Vail program well represented at junior nationals is one major goal of the season they can take satisfaction in accomplishing this year, with 11 athletes already qualified.
“It’s a good number and it’s a really good group of kids,” Pepper said. “To do well there you have to get there first, so qualifying is a big part of it.”
Athletes up to 20 years old can participate in junior nationals. In the under-20 female division, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail qualified Emma Blakslee.
In the under-18 female division, Bridget Donovan and Molly Blakslee will represent Vail. Donovan finished sixth in the classic race at last year’s junior nationals.
Other standout performers from last year will return, as well. Emma Reeder and Haley Brewster, who both took the podium in the women’s skate race at the 2018 junior nationals event, have qualified in the under-16 female division again this year, along with Elsa Perkins and Katy Jane Hardenbergh.
In the men’s under-20 division, Cameron Wolfe and Marcus Gore have qualified. Gore is a former youth biathlon national champion and Wolfe is coming back from an 11th place finish in the classic race at junior nationals last year. Wolfe also won the classic mass start at the junior nationals qualifying race in Durango on Saturday.
In the men’s under-18 division, Ian Hardenbergh and Andrew Rogers will represent Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, along with Tyler Wright in the under-16 men’s division.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.