SSCV Nordic athletes start the trek towards junior nationals with races in Aspen
Ski and Snowboard Club Vail athletes secured eight podium places in recent qualifying event
Mission Minneapolis kicked off Dec. 18 and Dec. 19 for the Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Nordic ski athletes.
Skiers in the U16 and U18/U20 divisions began their road to qualifying for this spring’s junior nationals, to be held at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with the Rocky Mountain Nordic Junior National Qualifier season opener in Aspen. Over the course of the entire weekend, SSCV athletes secured eight podium places across the two age groups, with Lucy Perkins and Rose Horning claiming top honors in Saturday’s skate sprint and Sunday’s classic 5-kilometer individual start, respectively.
“Overall, probably the biggest theme we noticed was that we were pretty psyched to be back racing,” head coach Eric Pepper said.
Pepper believed the slow start to winter, which canceled many of the regular early season races, notably the annual Thanksgiving FIS event in West Yellowstone — a standard rust-buster for club, NCAA and Olympic athletes alike — only added to the exuberance.
“To be at an event with parents and people cheering — to get into it and get going was really good,” Pepper said.
The Rocky Mountain region will send 25 males and 25 females to junior nationals, which will also include teams from the Alaska, Far West, Great Lakes, High Plains, Inter-Mountain, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Pacific Northwest and New England regions. Athletes must compete in at least four Rocky Mountain Nordic Junior National Qualifier races to be considered for selection. The sum of a skier’s points from their four best races, regardless of technique or format, will be used to determine the skier’s ranking within the region, with the top 13 U20/U18 skiers and top 12 U16 skiers in each gender heading north to Minneapolis in March.
Perkins led the U16 girls in Saturday’s sprint, posting a qualification time of 2:35.82, 10 seconds clear of the next competitor and the fourth fastest female time in any age group.
“Lucy’s a gamer, that’s what it comes down to,” Pepper said. “She’s a really good competitor; a good racer. She had a nice ski at the sprint — all day long she was really good.”
Perkins and Horning led the SSCV sweep of the U16 sprint podium, placing first and second in the six-person final as teammates Cassidy Wright and Gracen Kennedy came in third and fourth for good measure. On the U16 boys side, Cyrus Creasy finished in third with teammates William Bentley and Reiner Schmidt in fourth and sixth, respectively. No SSCV athletes qualified for the U20/U18 final.
“Creasy has been getting better and better,” Pepper said. “For him to come out and get third was really cool.”
Another athlete Pepper has been delighted to see maturing is Andrew Lombardi, who finished 12th and 10th in the two respective races.
“He had a great mountain biking season, he’s a super nice kid, really hard worker and he’s getting fast!” the coach exclaimed. “It’s been fun to watch a guy like him keep getting better.”
Perkins and Horning went at it again on Sunday, with the smooth-skiing Leadville resident posting the impressive gap this time, winning the 5-kilometer classic individual start crown by 47-seconds. Her time of 19:42 was the third-fastest time of any female athlete in any division on the day.
“I was pretty excited,” Horning said about her second career junior national qualifier victory.
Rose’s older sister, Adele, a key leader on Lake County’s 2A state championship cross-country team this fall, led the way in the senior division on Sunday, placing third behind Nina Schamberger of Summit Nordic Ski Club and Kate Oldham of Aspen Valley Ski Club. As a 15-year old, Schamberger, another Leadville resident, defeated a field of U18/U20 athletes at the Western Regional Championship at Soldier Hollow last March, the replacement event for the canceled Junior National. SSCV’s Emma Reeder, a freshman skiing for perennial NCAA Nordic powerhouse Dartmouth, was in town over break and finished 15-seconds back from Horning in sixth.
“That was a really good result,” Pepper noted of Horning’s result. “The two she was ahead of have been really good juniors for many, many years.”
Reeder was second in the country at the 2020 Junior Nationals in Truckee, California.
The elder Horning went into the race facing a myriad of tough circumstances, most notably a serious jaw injury incurred from an off-season rollerski accident. It has forced her to consume a liquid diet for the last month and kept her jaw was locked for the duration of both of her races, making her performance all the more incredible.
“I would imagine that is Adele’s best place in a race like this ever, and she was on point, so that was really cool,” the coach stated in regards to his athlete’s overall composure and resilience.
Horning felt there was more to be had.
“I wasn’t like ‘horrible race,’ but I wasn’t super pleased either,” she said about her initial feelings crossing the line, lamenting that she had momentarily mentally disengaged at some point on course. “My mind sort of wandered and I was convinced that that ruined my race. I crossed the finish line thinking I had done poorly.”
When Pepper approached her with the official results after her cooldown, her demeanor pivoted.
“I was pretty ecstatic,” she said in regard to discovering her time and place.
The positive relationship between Lake County head coach Karl Remsen and the SSCV program has allowed the sisters to benefit from the positives of both teams.
“It’s been very welcoming and super smooth,” Adele said about the sisters integration into the program. Both have enjoyed having a large group of athletes capable of pushing each other each day.
“There’s a group of U16 girls — we’re very strong together, we do intervals together. It’s really fun to have that group,” Rose said.
Another high-flying SSCV alumna in town over the holidays is Haley Brewster, the most recent SSCV Nordic Junior National champion, a title she won in 2019.
Brewster represented team U.S.A at the Junior World championships in 2021 and practiced with Pepper’s crew on Wednesday, zeroing in her race skis for U.S. Senior Nationals, which start Jan. 2 at Soldier Hollow. Pepper is hoping to take advantage of Minturn’s proximity to the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic venue and recently arrived snow by sending a dozen or so of his athletes there as well.
“The 3.75-K loop is legit,” he said about the current conditions of the Midway, Utah course, which in the past decade has been forced to use various versions of a mostly man-made snow loop whenever Pepper is in town.
“It looks good — like classic Soldier Hollow. It’s hard to beat that venue when the weather is right. I’m psyched to go back.”
The next Rocky Mountain Nordic Junior National Qualifier isn’t until Jan. 21. Managing the multitude of training plans and athlete goals — with some targeting a peak at the senior event, others for the junior event, and a few somewhere in-between — is a bit of a labyrinth puzzle for Pepper and Program Director Dan Weiland. Throw in holiday gatherings with families, current public health concerns and a recent snow dump, and it’s obvious as to why Pepper “gets paid the big bucks” to keep his athletes primed when it matters most.
“Largely it’s just managing the energy around those races you’ve been putting a lot of energy towards for a long time,” Pepper said in regards to the team’s general outlook towards the critical next few weeks between competitions.
“You’re also talking about junior kids — you’re not going to go, ‘You can’t go Alpine skiing,’” he said of the recent arrival of powder and new temptation for athletes to switch into downhill boots for a day.
Mission Minneapolis — should they choose to accept it — will be another opportunity for SSCV athletes to add to a growing legacy, but the program leader isn’t focused on outcome goals alone.
“What we’re looking to do is go there and have people finish races and feel like they did well, did what they wanted to do and they’re proud of their race, and our job as a staff is to facilitate that,” Weiland said of his team’s end of the year goals. “I want to go there and put together a trip that is as effective as possible for these kids to show up and do what they want to do on race day and do as well as they can.”
Jan. 21-22: Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby
Feb. 5-6: Frisco Nordic Center, Frisco
Feb. 19-20: Maloit Park, Minturn
Mar. 7-12 – Junior Nationals – Minneapolis, MN