Vail Nordic racers shine at Soldier Hollow |

Vail Nordic racers shine at Soldier Hollow

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SOLDIER HOLLOW, Utah – While most locals like to head to sunny climes come spring, Presque Isle, Maine, in March is the goal for Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Nordic team.

It’s the site of this year’s Junior Nordic Olympics, and some locals made some big steps this weekend toward that goal in JO qualifier, which hosted the best racers from the West Coast and intermountain west, in Soldier Hollow, Utah.

Christian Shanley, a J2, had a superb weekend, finishing fourth in Friday’s 1.3-kilometer skate sprint. He finished in a swift 3 minutes, 13 seconds. Shanley followed that up with a fifth-place finish in the J2 classic race – a 5K – Saturday, clocking in at 15:14.

Karl Hochtl, who is SSCV’s developmental coach for the club’s high school-aged racers, said those performances very likely punched Shanley’s ticket to Maine come March.

“This weekend, Christian established himself as one of the top J2 men in the Western United States,” Hochtl said. “His consistency speaks volumes about how hard he has trained and worked.

“The funny thing is how things played out this weekend. He could have won the sprint, but he got caught behind another racer. In the 5K, Christian took off with the lead for half of the race. He gambled a little bit, trying to lead from start to finish. It didn’t play out for him, but it’s just a matter of time before it will work for him.”

“This past weekend was a good preview for Junior Nationals,” Shanley said. “We got a preview of what some of the other teams are like and showed us where we’re at.”

By his lofty standards, Sean Woods had been in a slump. He picked up a cold in December and just couldn’t shake it through a big meet up in Anchorage, Alaska, and other competitions in January.

That so-called slump is over. Against a field of U-23, OJs (older juniors ages 18 to 19) and J1s, Woods, 17, finished 16th in his 15K skate race in 40:26.4. That was good for seventh among his fellow J1s.

“I just hadn’t had that extra push. I couldn’t get to the next gear, I guess.” said Woods, whom Hochtl believes is also bound for Maine. “I kind of had the races I was looking for. I think I’m back.”

These guys weren’t the only ones having fun at Soldier Hollow.

Lauren Zdechlik and Sally Ryerson, as well as Woods, all qualified for the quarterfinals of Friday’s sprint, which is a big step in their development.

Ryerson was 19th among J2s in her Saturday skate race, while Zdechlik was 18th in the J1 field, despite a mass start which caused her to tumble twice. Max Bernell also took sixth in his OJ race.

The site of the 2002 Olympic Nordic events, Soldier Hollow was also a great opportunity for SSCV’s athletes to compete at one of the country’s best venues in their sport.

“Every year this event keeps growing, and to have it at an Olympic venue just adds to the excitement,” Hochtl said. “The courses are the real deal for the kids. They get out there and get tested unlike anywhere else. It’s really like a Junior Nationals course. It’s awesome that they get that experience before going to the actual event.”

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or

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