The 2019 high school nordic ski season all comes down to three furious days of racing, beginning today at the Alaska School Activities Association state meet at Birch Hill Ski Area in Fairbanks, and peninsula teams are setting their sights high.
The championship meet starts today with classic technique races in interval-start format. The boys race 7.5 kilometers while the girls go 5K.
The wick will be turned up Friday with mass-start freestyle races, as the boys tackle a 10K course and the girls race for 7.5K.
It all comes to a head Saturday with the relay races, with boys teams taking on a 4-by-5K event and girls teams facing a 4-by-3K race. Both relays will feature classic-classic-skate-skate leg formats.
The races will also be streamed live on the Lathrop Activities Facebook page.
Hosting the ASAA state meet for a second straight year, Birch Hill is a punishing trail system that rewards those that have a knack for climbing. Friday’s boys 10K skate race features over 1,000 feet of climbing, but for teams familiar with Soldotna’s Tsalteshi Trails, it will be home cooking.
“Birch Hill is a reat place to race, we like coming here,” said Soldotna co-head coach Dan Harbison. “A lot of (peninsula skiers) have been here before and they’ve been skiing Besh Cup too. It’s just how they approach races up here, everything is covered and done really well.”
A three-day schedule of races will suck the energy out of even the strongest skier, but in Fairbanks, there is also the cold to contend with. Lows for tonight and Friday are expected to drop well into the sub-zero range, which naturally draws the moisture out of snow and creates a dry friction with skis.
To skiers, cold means slow and draggy.
For Harbison, that means close competition.
Less than three minutes separated first from fourth in the girls team race at the Region III meet in Palmer two weeks ago. The Homer girls finished just 2 minutes, 52 seconds, behind team champions Palmer after two days of racing, and the SoHi girls were less than two minutes behind but ended up third.
The boys scrap for the team title was so close, it took one turn of fate to decide who won. Soldotna senior Jeremy Kupferschmid was a contender to win the individual crown but snapped a pole in half early in one of the races and had to limp with just one pole for over two kilometers.
Once the dust settled, the top three boys teams were separated by just 23 seconds, with the Soldotna Stars finishing runner-up by eight seconds to Colony.
Kupferschmid and teammate Bradley Walters both helped the SoHi boys to a dominant relay victory last Saturday at the Kenai Peninsula Borough championships at Tsalteshi, and both said they are targeting top-20 results in the state Skimeister race. The Skimeister award goes to the fastest boys and girls skier in the state after Thursday and Friday’s combined times. Harbison added teammate Jack Harris to that list as well.
The Kenai Central squad is also looking to finish the year strong after top-25 region finishes by Tyler Hippchen, Josh Foster and Tristan Summers.
While Homer’s boys squad hasn’t been able to field a full varsity team this year, coach Alyson O’Hara has lauded the efforts of senior Andy Super, who came away with a 31st-place result at the Region III meet.
On the girls side, the Homer and SoHi girls enter the state meet with shots to nab top-10 team finishes, after both came close to winning the Region III title.
Homer junior Autumn Daigle was fourth at the region meet and looks to better her 2018 state showing of 26th. Daigle is fresh off a winning relay leg last week at boroughs, an anchor leg that saw her make up more than a minute on Soldotna to win.
The Mariners also flaunt Katia Holmes and Zoe Stonorov as skiers to watch for, especially in Saturday’s relay.
The Kenai Central girls racked up a top-10 Region III finish with Maria Salzetti in sixth, and the Kardinals also bring experience to state with Mickinzie Ticknor while receiving substantial depth from freshmen Leah Fallon and Summer Foster.
The SoHi girls nearly picked up a victory last weekend at the borough championship relays, led by Erika Arthur, who also picked up a pair of top-10 finishes at the Region III meet the week prior. Arthur will be joined by Hannah Delker, Cameron Blackwell and Sonora Martin.