Grand Mesa Hosts First-Ever USSA Nordic Races
by Peter Shelton
Dec 13, 2012 | 1884 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CLASSIC WIN – Telluride’s Rachel Hampton, racing for the Durango Nordic Ski Club, topped the women’s field in a United States Ski Association 5k classic race on Grand Mesa Sunday. The THS senior also took her F0J class (18-19 year olds) in the National Rankings List competition, which was moved from Summit County to the snowy, and very cold, track at Skyway. High temp for the day was 4 degrees Fahrenheit. (Photo by Peter Shelton)
CLASSIC WIN – Telluride’s Rachel Hampton, racing for the Durango Nordic Ski Club, topped the women’s field in a United States Ski Association 5k classic race on Grand Mesa Sunday. The THS senior also took her F0J class (18-19 year olds) in the National Rankings List competition, which was moved from Summit County to the snowy, and very cold, track at Skyway. High temp for the day was 4 degrees Fahrenheit. (Photo by Peter Shelton)
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KICK-AND-GLIDE – The men strode the classic grooves on a USSA-sanctioned 10k classic race at Skyway on Grand Mesa Sunday. New snow and cold temperatures made for tricky waxing. Racers from CU Boulder and the Ski and Snowboard Club of Vail took the top two places. (Photo by Peter Shelton)

KICK-AND-GLIDE – The men strode the classic grooves on a USSA-sanctioned 10k classic race at Skyway on Grand Mesa Sunday. New snow and cold temperatures made for tricky waxing. Racers from CU Boulder and the Ski and Snowboard Club of Vail took the top two places. (Photo by Peter Shelton)

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Telluride’s Rachel Hampton Takes Women’s 5k Classic



GRAND MESA – “Hup, hup, hup!” “Kick and glide!” “Hands higher!” “Make a pass! Make a pass!” “Go, Rachel!” “Go, Cara!”

Coaches ran alongside the classic grooves exhorting their charges at Sunday’s United States Ski Association-sanctioned races on Grand Mesa. The racers, starting in waves according to gender and age classification, took off around 5k or 10k loops through the meadows and spruce forests at 10,900 feet on a very cold (1º F at 9 a.m.), fresh-snow morning at Skyway.

It was a big deal for the host Grand Mesa Nordic Council. A hundred racers from nordic clubs and colleges around Colorado and Wyoming. Ringers from Norway. Dozens of coaches, waxing gurus in their trailers, sheaves of feather-light skis, parents and hangers-on.

GMNC had never put on an event this big, or this formal – a National Ratings List competition with technical delegates from USSA and everything. “This is probably twice as many racers as we’ve ever hosted,” said Dave Aschwanden, the two-day Chief of Course, who is also the coach of Colorado Mesa University’s cross-country ski team.

Saturday was a skate race, also known as freestyle. Sunday was the traditional, the ancient diagonal-stride, running on skis race – no skating allowed.

The event had been originally been scheduled for Summit County, in Frisco or Breckenridge, but those tracks didn’t yet have enough snow. So, GMNC got the call, and responded beautifully.

The kids, ranging in age from J5s (9 and under) to J0s (18-19) and Seniors (the college kids), sported the red racing suits of the Durango Nordic Ski Club, the white-and-gold of the CU Buffalos, the black-and-white of the powerhouse Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, the blue of Vail.

Telluride doesn’t have a Nordic program as part of its ski club. So, the one racer in the field from Telluride, high school senior Rachel Hampton, has been skiing for the Durango Nordic Ski Club for the last five years. Hampton, who was the 2A cross-country state champion for THS this fall, bolted to the front at the start of Sunday’s classic 5k and never gave up the lead. (“She told me she was going to go out slow, see how she felt,” said her father, Keith, afterward. “So much for the cautious approach!”) She sprinted to the finish with a gaggle of Steamboat girls behind her, some of whom collapsed in an exhausted heap, while Hampton stood smiling, heavy glitter sparkling on her eyelids.

“Rachel, you’re too much!” said one of the vanquished, hugging the winner.

The big-boys’ 10k race was similarly not close. In this case, a CU recruit from Norway, 23-year-old Rune Malo Oedegaard, ran away from the field, as he had done in the skate race the day before. The Norwegians – there were several – seem to be cut from an identical mold: tall, with broad, triangular upper bodies and powerful backs. “Upper body strength is the single biggest indicator of success,” said Aschwanden. “These guys double-poled an entire race up in Montana. They can do that when the snow is fast. They’re probably on the B Team in Norway, and came over here to get a good, free education.”

Everyone had to pay close attention to the cold. Toes were cold. Hands and faces were cold. The competitors had to wrap up (one of them in a down sleeping bag) when they weren’t actually running.

The new snow crystals were too sharp to be really fast; the waxers – usually the coaches themselves – tested different combinations for an hour and a half prior to start times. No one would even try to double-pole the whole course, to use just arm and core strength to power the skis. The cold snow wouldn’t allow it. Everyone had to run.

It was a beautiful thing: kids from 9 years old on up going as hard and efficiently as they could on perfectly prepared tracks in a high, wintry place, as people have done (in Scandinavia at least) for thousands of years.

Yes, it was bitter cold. Some danced on the balls of their feet and complained. But Aschwanden silenced them with a welcome bit of truth telling. “It’s vintertime,” he said in a mock northern accent. Yes, and about time.



pshelton@watchnewspapers.com

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