Eagle County juniors wrap up Nordic season | VailDaily.com

Eagle County juniors wrap up Nordic season

Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Nordic athletes Gracie Shanley and Pete Littman train in Minturn in March. The local Nordic program has more than 100 athletes currently enrolled.
Zach Mahone | Special to the Daily |


Cross Country Junior Championships:

Nolan Herzog: 4th in 10/10/5k classic; 4th in relay.

Collin Wilson: 10th in classic sprint.

Maddie Donovan: 1st in relay.

Katja Freeburn: 1st in relay.

Bridget Donovan: 4th in classic sprint; 5th in 10/10/5k classic.

VAIL — Local Nordic racers Katja Freeburn and Maddie Donovan brought home gold medals this week from the Cross-Country Junior Championships in Lake Placid, New York. Freeburn and Donovan were among 15 local athletes to make it to the championships, which brought together the top juniors from around the country over the weekend.

Freeburn and Donovan teamed up with Ezra Smith from Summit County to win the relay team event at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Cross Country Ski and Biathlon Center, which was also where the Nordic events were held at the 1980 Olympic Games. Other standout performances from the locals included Nolan Herzog’s fourth place finish in the 10/10/5K classic, and Bridget Donovan’s fourth place finish in the classic sprint.

Of the 15 athletes to qualify, only three will graduate out of the program this year.

“We’re a young team,” said coach Eric Pepper. “We’re always trying to gain experience at that level of racing and on man-made snow that’s constantly going through freeze and thaw conditions.”

For the first race of the week, temperatures were about 50 degrees. By day two, it was minus 10.

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“There were definitely some pretty adverse conditions,” Pepper said.

Fun Environment

The 15 athletes who qualified from Ski & Snowboard Club Vail set a record for the club for most athletes ever qualified for the Junior National Championship. Along with Steamboat Springs, Vail had the most athletes from a single program at the championships.

“It’s always awesome to go to a place that’s hosted two Olympics, and get to take that whole scene in for the kids,” Pepper said.

Program director Dan Weiland says we can expect to see Vail continuing to qualify lots of kids to the junior nationals each year, as the program sees substantial growth every year. The program started with just a handful of kids and now has 108 members and is the fastest-growing sport in the club.

“We’ve done a really good job of establishing a culture here in Eagle County,” Weiland said.

The local Nordic culture can be seen on weekdays at the Vail Athletic Fields, where local endurance athlete Christian Kloser packs a van full of year and brings cross-country skiing to kids who would have otherwise never been introduced to the sport.

In a sport that’s not exactly known for its fun factor, that’s exactly the element that Bridget Donovan says has been most helpful to the program.

“It’s just a really fun environment,” she said. “Everyone is friends, we get to hang out and go on trips together and train together with the coaches. It’s the coaches who have really made it the most fun.”

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