In this Olympic year, Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Olympic Development Team cross-country skiers have a heightened sense of urgency about their racing status, said 23rd-year SVSEF head Nordic coach Rick Kapala.
So, Kapala and head SVSEF ODT coach Travis Jones are in the midst of a two-week trip to Western Canada with seven racers. There, they are competing in Nor-Am and Continental Cup races against some of the best Canadian and U.S. skiers.
Kapala said, "These races are big opportunities to make progress and to race at high levels before the U.S. National Championships in Alaska in January. The kids are more focused in the Olympic year, and they're also looking forward to the 2011 World Championships in Oslo, Norway."
Sun Valley ODT racers in Canada for that country's version of the U.S. SuperTour include Mike Sinnott, Simi Hamilton, Colin Rodgers, Nicole DeYong and Kate Whitcomb, plus SVSEF juniors Max Durtschi and Erik Fagerstrom, a newcomer from Minnesota.
They competed in freestyle Dec. 12-13 at Sovereign Lake in Silver Star Resort near Vernon, British Columbia. Right after, the Sun Valley group left for Canmore, Alberta where classic races will be Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 19-20. The Canadians are using these two weekends to select their 2010 Olympic team comprised of between 12 and 16 skiers.
"Our most important races are still coming up at the U.S. Nationals," said Jones about the Americans.
Monday night, coach Jones reported Sovereign Lake had "tons of snow," on its challenging and hilly packed powder terrain. The Sun Valley skiers with the top results at Silver Star were DeYong, Fagerstrom, Hamilton and Sinnott.
DeYong (15:00) placed seventh overall, the third American, in Saturday's Haywood Securities Inc. women's 10-kilometer freestyle race for 79 finishers. Winning her fourth Continental Cup race at 10k was Holly Brooks of Alaska Pacific University (14:33).
"It was another good result for Nicole," said Jones. "It kept her in the hunt for an Olympic berth."
So did DeYong's fifth place in Sunday morning's freestyle sprint preliminaries where one skier leaves the start every 15 seconds. She elected not to compete in afternoon heats.
Jones added, "Nicole is skiing as well as we've seen her in some time."
Eden Prairie's Older Junior racer Fagerstrom (21:01) was the fourth junior and 54th of 123 racers in Saturday's men's 15k skate event won by American Garrott Kuzzy (18:33). Max Durtschi was 70th overall, the 13th junior, at 21:26. Hamilton finished 30th among men.
Jones and Kapala, recognizing that Sunday's preliminary skate sprints were the most important factors for USSA and FIS points—more important than the elimination heats later Sunday—were delighted when Hamilton, 22, and Sinnott, 24 went 1-2 in the 123-skier field with times of 2:15 and 2:17 in the sprints.
"To go 1-2 in the morning was huge for them," Jones said. "Both were a little under the weather so we were excited to see the big qualification times. We hoped they could go out there and throw it down for two-and-a-half minutes and they did."
Sinnott ended up finishing 10th in the heats and Hamilton was 18th, but they had already achieved what they were seeking in the morning Teck Sprint preliminaries. Jones said, "Mike was leading his semi-final when a Canadian skier inadvertently stepped on his pole and broke it.
Kate Whitcomb also continued to show good form with a 26th place in Saturday's 10k skate. She was 24th in sprint prelims. Colin Rodgers did not race in the skate events, waiting to gear up for this weekend's classic races at Canmore.
"We have two days of classic sprints at Canmore. We'd like all four of our guys to advance to the A Final," said Jones.
Ketchum's Reid Pletcher will join the team this weekend to give Sun Valley a formidable crew for the classics. A nice, sunny week is forecasted, temperatures in the 20s.