It was north to Whistler, B.C., Canada and farther north to Alaska for U.S. Nordic Ski Team racers and several stars from the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation during the final two weeks of March.
Some of America's top cross-country ski racers competed in both the Canadian National Championships on the 2010 Olympic trails and the U.S. National Distance Championships at Fairbanks, Alaska.
U.S. Ski Team racer Morgan Arritola, 21, of Fairfield finished the season with a flourish. The Community School graduate earned silver medals behind Vermont's Liz Stephen, 21, in both Friday's 15-kilometer pursuit finals and in Sunday's 30k classic race.
In Sunday's 30k race, Stephen and Arritola skied with a pack that included Sigrid Aas, SVSEF racer Nicole DeYong, Kassie Rice and Kristina Strindberg during the first, short 5.5k loop. Stephen and Arritola then separated themselves from that group on the first long 8k loop. They looked stronger and quicker, especially on the long, steep climbs.
On the second long loop, Stephen started to pull away from Arritola, according to Chief of Competition John Estle. Stephen came through the lap lane for the final time with an 18-second lead that expanded to 1:31 by race's end.
Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation/Factory Team's Mike Sinnott, 23, was sixth overall in Friday's men's 30k pursuit finals and 13th in Sunday's 50k classic event. SVSEF racer Colin Rodgers came in sixth in men's 50k Sunday.
The men's 30k pursuit winner Friday was Canada's Ivan Babikov. Leif Zimmermann, 24, of Bozeman the top American in fourth place. Sinnott was the American silver medalist in sixth place overall as the 2007-08 Super Tour came to an end.
Meanwhile, Sunday's men's 50k race was extremely challenging, with two steep, long climbs each lap and over 1,850m of climbing.
The winner was Canada's Babikov in 2.32:36, with Alaska Pacific coach Frode Lillefjell the top American in third place and Rodgers fourth among all Americans in the event.
Competition at Fairbanks kicked off with the Tour of the Golden Heart classic sprints Wednesday afternoon and evening at Birch Hill. There was still plenty of daylight when the final heat ended just before 8 p.m. with temperatures about 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
With Kikkan Randall sitting out because of a back injury, her Alaska Pacific University and U.S. Ski Team teammate Laura Valaas of Wenatchee, Wash. won the women's sprint on the 1.145k course. The men's winner was USST racer Torin Koos over Andy Newell.
Former Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation racers Lars Flora and Chris Cook placed 4-5 in the Men's Final A. Mike Sinnott was second in the Men's B Final and eighth out of 24 racers. SVSEF racer Rodgers made the quarterfinals in the March 26 sprints.
Here are Friday and Sunday's distance race top results:
Women's 15k pursuit, March 28: 1—Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, Vt.) 45:38. 2—Morgan Arritola (USST) 46:28. 5—Nicole DeYong (SVSEF) 47:44 (23 racers).
Men's 30k pursuit, March 28: 1—Ivan Babikov (Canada) 1.21:37. 4—Leif Zimmermann (USST) 1.22:47. 6—Mike Sinnott (SVSEF/Factory Team) 1.23:10. 8—Chris Cook 1.24:38. 10—Noah Hoffman (SVSEF) 1.25:14. 14—Colin Rodgers (SVSEF) 1.25:56. 34—Mike Matteson (Alaska Pacific) 1.33:01 (46 racers).
Women's 30k classic, March 30: 1—Stephen 1.38:48. 2—Arritola 1.40:20. 8—DeYong 1.43:14 (19 racers).
Men's 50k classic, March 30: 1—Babikov 2.32:36. 3—Frode Lillefjell 2.35:00. 6—Rodgers 2.37:53. 13—Sinnott 2.42:38. 18—Cook 2.45:30. 27—Hoffman 2.50:21. DNF—Lars Flora (36 racers).
At the Canadian Nationals
SVSEF and U.S. Cross Country Ski Team athletes had a successful test on the 2010 Olympic trails during the 81st Canadian Cross Country Ski Championships sponsored by Haywood Securities Inc. March 16-23 at Whistler, B.C., Canada.
The Whistler Olympic Park venues are under the management of former U.S. Ski Team athlete and Boulder Mountain Ski Tour champion John Aalberg, who also played a key role at the 2002 Olympic venue in Soldier Hollow, Utah.
U.S. World Cup winner Kikkan Randall, 25, of Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University led the way by winning two races including the sprint and 10k classic. U23 Championship medalist Liz Stephen captured the 10k freestyle.
"Our main goal in going to the Canadian Nationals was to race on the Olympic trails, wax on the Olympic snow and, of course, try to win some ski races," said U.S. Cross Country head coach Pete Vordenberg. "We did all three!
Sun Valley native and Community School graduate Mali Noyes, 18, entered her first-ever Canadian nationals after winning her first U.S. Junior Olympic individual gold in Older Junior (18-19) 5k freestyle March 12 at Anchorage.
Noyes had an excellent ninth-place result out of 42 Open Women in the 30k mass start classic race March 23 at Whistler Olympic Park. Her time of 1.42:04, the third-fastest Yank, was six minutes behind winner Sara Renner of Canmore, Alberta, Canada (1.36:09).
Arritola was fifth in the women's 10k skate March 19 and fourth in the Open Women's 5k classic March 18.
Here's a quick summary of Canadian Nationals, which began with a team sprint victory by Randall and Laura Valaas of Wenatchee March 17:
Open Women's 5k classic March 18, 2 laps: 1—Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) 14:57. 2—Chandra Crawford (Canada) 15:44. 4—Morgan Arritola (SVSEF) 15:53. 13—Kate Whitcomb (SVSEF) 16:31. 32—Mali Noyes (SVSEF) 17:35. 37—Nicole DeYong (SVSEF) 17:56 (71 racers).
Open Men's 10k classic March 18: 1—Stefan Kuhn of Canmore 27:31. 11—Chris Cook 28:43. 21—Mike Sinnott (SVSEF, Factory Team) 29:23. 22—Colin Rodgers (SVSEF) 29:24 (101 racers).
Women's 10k interval start freestyle March 19, 3 laps: 1—Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, Vt.) 26:19. 5—Arritola 27:23. 12—Whitcomb 28:32. 19—DeYong 29:09. 24—Noyes 29:21 (73 racers).
Men's 15k freestyle March 19: 1—Ivan Babikov (Canada) 37:28. 3—Lars Flora (Anchorage) 38:09. 9—Cook 38:33. 10—Sinnott 38:35. 12—Rodgers 39:09 (98 racers).
Women's 1.2k freestyle sprints March 21: 1—Randall. 2—Sara Renner (Canada). 18—Noyes (quarterfinalist).
Men's 1.4k freestyle sprints March 21: 9—Flora (3rd in B Final). 16—Sinnott (quarterfinalist). 17—Rodgers (quarterfinalist). 18—Cook (quarterfinalist).
Women's 30k mass start classic, March 23: 1—Renner (Canada) 1.36:09. 9—Noyes 1.42:04. 12—Whitcomb 1.42:45 (42 racers).
Men's 50k mass start classic, March 23: 1—Ivan Babikov (Canada) 2.22:02. 2—Torin Koos (USST) 2.22:17.