The biggest gold medal of all went to a happy 48-skier Intermountain Division contingent including 13 kids from Sun Valley at the end of last week's Chevrolet Junior National cross-country ski competition at Soldier Hollow, Utah.
Intermountain, sparked by an outstanding 408-point day in the freestyle sprints last Monday, captured its first Alaska Cup team championship in nine years by a margin of 421 points over four-time defending champion New England.
Sun Valley Junior Nordic ski team coach Rick Kapala said about the team result, "It was a little surprising, but what fun! I remember when Intermountain last won at Ponderosa State Park in McCall in 1998, it went down to the wire in the relays.
"This time, we had a monster day in the sprints—36 of our 48 skiers advancing out of the morning preliminaries. We just had exceptional skis in the beginning of the week and after that, the pressure was off. New England had been kicking everybody in the sprints and getting off to a good start the last four years."
Kapala added, "We've had several meets at Soldier Hollow and our kids were familiar with the course—and it paid off in the sprints. This year the sprint course was 1,300 meters with two real hills in it. I felt the kids who were more fit and who could ski well were definitely rewarded."
The Intermountain success didn't happen in just the sprints. "We did real well in classic, too," Kapala said.
Amassing at least 200 points in each of the six classes, the Intermountain Division trounced New England 1,423 to 1,002 in the 10-division Alaska Cup ranks. Alaska was a distant third with 888 points and Rocky Mountain (833) fourth.
Intermountain's points were well balanced—251 Men's OJ, 208 Women's OJ, 205 J1 boys, 286 J1 girls, 227 J2 boys and 246 J2 girls. Breaking it down by event, Intermountain had 408 sprints, 347 freestyle and 348 classic, all divisional bests, and a third-best 320 relays.
Sun Valley skiers contributed mightily with two individual gold medals and one gold in the relays.
Individual golds went to Ian Havlick, 18, in Monday's Men's Older Junior 1.3-kilometer free technique final sprint, and to 18-year-old Mike Matteson in Wednesday's Men's OJ (ages 18-19) 15-kilometer skate race.
Mali Noyes, 17, of Sun Valley came on strong with a fourth place in Friday's 5k classic race and she had the second-best opening leg on Intermountain's gold medal J1 (16-17) girls' 3x5k relay team Saturday. Her winning teammates, both from Montana's Bridger Ski Foundation, were Erika Flowers and Kate Dolan.
J1 Taylor Sundali, 17, had the fastest second leg helping his Intermountain squad to the silver medal in the J1 boys' 3x5k relay Saturday.
Sun Valley's Max Durtschi, 15, showed his potential with a silver medal in Friday's J2 boys' (14-15) 5k classic race behind the week's outstanding skier in the J2 class, George Cartwright, 15, of Lander, Wyo.
Kapala said, "Max had been struggling a little in the beginning of the week so we had a talk about needing to relax. Still he was in sixth place halfway through the race, 22 seconds out of the lead. When he realized that, he said to himself, 'I'm not finishing sixth!' He found the intensity he needed and finished second, just 13 seconds behind."
Cartwright, winner of all three J2 boys' individual races, is "the real deal," Kapala said, but Durtschi was close in classic and Sun Valley's Travis Job, 15, was fourth 19 seconds behind Cartwright in the 5k skate.
Kapala said, "I'm pretty excited about the future. Makayla Cappel had a standout week as far as stepping up, in fact, all of our J2 girls really stepped it up at Junior Nationals."
In all, Sun Valley had 13 racers in the 389-racer classic field Friday. Local results in classic and relays:
OJ men's 10k classic: 1—Kyle Fredrickson (Hayward, Wisc.) 26:44. 7—Mike Matteson 27:55. 10—Ian Havlick 28:18 (56 finishers). 3x5k relay: 1—Midwest (Fredrickson, Cook, Fick) 46:23. 3—Intermountain (Ian Havlick, Matteson with 2nd-best leg) 46:53 (25 teams).
OJ women's 5k classic: 1—Ida Sargent (Burke Mountain Academy) 13:56. 11—Tess Dahlgren 15:07 (38 finishers). 3x5k relay: 1—New England (Sargent, Crocker, Anderson) 52:46. 9—IM (Dahlgren) 57:06 (17 teams).
J1 boys' 10k classic: 1—Noah Hoffman (Aspen Valley) 26:19. 13—Taylor Sundali 28:35. 29—Scott Krankkala 30:09 (75 finishers). 3x5k relay: 1—Rocky Mountain (Gerstenberger, Hoffman, Miles Havlick) 45:17. 2—IM (Sundali, best leg) 46:01. 10—IM (Krankkala) 49:19 (21 teams).
J1 girls' 5k classic: 1—Casey Kutz (Methow Valley) 13:41. 4—Mali Noyes 14:04 (93 finishers). 3x5k relay: 1—IM (Noyes, 2nd-best leg, Erika Flowers and Kate Dolan of Bridger Ski Foundation) 51:56 (29 teams).
J2 boys' 5k classic: 1—George Cartwright (Lander) 12:04. 2—Max Durtschi 12:17. 5—Travis Job 12:28. 9—Scotty Phelan 12:39 (64 finishers). 3x3k relay: 1—Pacific Northwest (Shannon, Bjornsen, Madden) 28:55. 4—IM (Job, 2nd-best leg, Phelan and Durtschi) 29:41 (21 teams).
J2 girls' 5k classic: 1—Katherine Ingalls (Steamboat Springs) 14:10. 6—Julia Bowman 14:37. 13—Bronwen Raff 14:56. 22—Courtney Hamilton 15:10. 26—Makayla Cappel 15:20 (57 finishers). 3x3k relay: 1—Rocky Mountain (Hausman, Elliott, Ingalls) 32:38. 4—IM (Bowman, 3rd-best leg) 33:39. 5—IM (Raff) 33:49. 6—IM (Cappel, 2nd-best leg, and Hamilton) 33:54 (18 teams).