Warm temperatures, brown grass, puddles of water, ungodly sticky Klister, patches of bare dirt.
That is the picture that has been painted over and over again the past three winters in southcentral Alaska, and nordic skiers have had enough of it.
High school teams will have to endure one more weekend of the season that wasn’t, starting today at Kincaid Park in Anchorage. Over 30 teams statewide will converge on the Alaska state cross-country skiing championships to race on ribbons of snow surrounded by dry land.
“We’ve used more Klister this year than any other year,” admitted Kenai Central coach Brad Nyquist, referring to the sticky gray gunk that teams use in warm weather for classic skiing. “You work with such unpredictable circumstances, so we just adapt to whatever it is and work with it. We work with the best that we can.”
Racers will compete today in an interval-start freestyle event, with girls skiing five kilometers and boys going 7.5K.
If additional snow arrives before Friday’s events, a mass start will be used. Otherwise, Friday will be a 10K classic for the boys and 7.5K for the girls.
The always popular relay race will concluded the three-day weekend Saturday with a girls 4-by-3K mixed technique relay and a boys 4-by-5K relay.
“I don’t think the weather’s gonna cooperate,” said Soldotna coach Dan Harbison. “I saw the (Cook Inlet) region meet on the news last weekend, and it didn’t look good.”
The good news that Harbison shared was that the Stars and Kards were able to get out on good snow this week in the days leading up to the state meet. The Tsalteshi Trails were relieved with a fair amount — even if wet and sloppy — snow on Sunday and the white stuff was enough for trails groomer Bill Holt to make it work.
“It’s been great, we skied the last two days at Tsalteshi, and the course has been pretty good out there,” Harbison said.
Sunday’s marginal snowfall, which was softened by 40-degree temperatures on Monday, went quite a ways in helping the trails become a full-use system again. Previously, only Wolverine and the Squirrel and Owl loops were open after groomers ground up the remaining ice into sand-like powder.
“It’s so fun to go ski on Monday,” Nyquist added. “Bill is so good and he works his magic. It’s nice to be able to ski.”
Nyquist said with the snow that showed up Sunday, the skiers were raring to get out for additional practice, even when Nyquist had to temper that enthusiasm in order to keep his varsity racers ready for Thursday.
“We’re tapering, and we got done with the workout and they wanted to go more,” Nyquist said. “They’re like a racehorse coming out of the blocks.
“I think they’ll be looking to let loose this weekend.”
After earning their second straight region crown last weekend in Valdez, the Kenai girls will be looking to add a state crown to their burgeoning list, one to go with the cross-country running trophy they garnered in October.
However, the competition is looking as fierce as ever, as the West Anchorage girls and boys swept the team titles at the CIC meet last weekend. In a demonstration of dominance, the West girls not only won the region relay on Saturday, but their ‘B’ team took home second as well.
“West is like 100 (members) deep,” Nyquist said. “That doesn’t mean anything without quality, but they have that too. We have some kids that can compete with them, but they’re deep.”
Nyquist said he’d like to see his girls team improve over last year’s finish of sixth, so a top 5 is the goal.
The battle for supremacy among the Kenai girls all season long has been between sophomores Addison Gibson and Riana Boonstra. The two teammates have finished 1-2 in high school events on three occasions, with Gibson getting the better of Boonstra each time. Gibson has collected prep victories this year at the Mat-Su Valley Invitational, the Homer Invite, the Rally in the Valley and the Kenai Peninsula Borough championships in Homer.
However, Boonstra finally caught Gibson last week at the region meet, winning the individual Skimeister over Gibson by a scant 17 seconds. Nyquist said Gibson working to peak her season for Junior Nationals, and thus is on a different training schedule than Boonstra.
Nyquist said it would be realistic for those two to take home top 5 finishes in the state Skimeister standings this weekend.
“Riana, if she skis anything like she runs, she got better as the season went on,” Nyquist said. “Last weekend, her tempo was good and strong.
“They’re training a little bit different, so it’s a little like comparing apples and oranges.”
The only time the Kards have tested themselves against real statewide competition this season was in December’s Lynx Loppet in Anchorage. Gibson finished as the top Peninsula skier with an eighth-place finish, while Karl Danielson took top honors on the boys side in 10th.
Last year, Kenai senior Travis Cooper came the closest any Peninsula boy has come to winning the state Skimeister in 12 years, starting the weekend with a victory in the opening 7.5K classic.
However, Cooper could not hold on to the 20-second lead he had over West Valley’s Max Donaldson, and ultimately had to settle for fifth place in the Skimeister standings.
This year, the best Kardinals boys prospect is sophomore Karl Danielson, who took home a fifth-place finish last week in Valdez. Nyquist said Danielson is shooting for a top-10 at state.
After last year’s close miss by Cooper, Nyquist said Danielson potentially represents the next best hope for a boys state champion from the Kenai peninsula.
“He’s such a dynamic skier,” Nyquist said. “For sure he’d like to finish top 20 (this weekend).”
Nyquist added that senior James Butler would like to finish his prep career with a top 15, while fellow senior Liam Floyd is hoping for a top 30.
Nyquist said his boys, which finished sixth in the state team standings a year ago with Cooper leading the way, are simply looking to compete strong with the region teams they are familiar with, such as Colony and Grace Christian.
“There’s always a little competitive edge between the teams,” he said.
Outgoing seniors for Kenai include Michaela Salzetti and Lindsey Floyd on the girls team, and Butler and Floyd for the boys.
The Soldotna boys were ninth at state last year, and coach Harbison said a top 10 is within reach once again.
“We’d like to see how close we can get to the top five,” Harbison said. “We think a few of those Anchorage teams will be relatively close, but the Lynx Loppet was really the only one we got to compete with Anchorage teams, so we don’t really know where they are.
The SoHi boys are bringing momentum into state with a team triumph at the region meet in Valdez. The Stars had to hold off Colony by less than two minutes to take home the hardware, and were led by John-Mark Pothast, who racked up finishes of third and seventh at the two-day meet. Three other SoHi boys grabbed top 10 finishes on both days, including senior Levi Michael, Koby Vinson and Jeremy Kupferschmid, which helped to highlight the depth of the squad.
Harbison said Pothast and Michael typically trade off the top spot for the boys side, as Michael’s better discipline is usually classic and Pothast tends to favor the skate technique. Both skiers have traded wins this year.
The SoHi girls team, which finished fourth in the region last weekend, is looking to hold that spot among region squads, Harbison said.
“We’re hoping to be close to a top ten, that would be great,” he said.
Harbison said he would like to send out his seniors with a bang. Hannah Pothast leads that group with Mieka Chythlook and Brianna Bennett.
The Homer Mariners are sending a full varsity contingent to state with hopes of improving upon the team’s 2015 finishes of 11th for the girls and 15th for the boys.
Leading the Homer girls is senior Rachel Ellert and sophomore Sarah Wolf. For the boys, sophomore Jacob Davis and junior Hoxie Parks enter as the strongest Mariners contenders.
The Seward Seahawks are only bringing five skiers. For the girls, sophomore Ruby Lindquist and freshman Sadie Lindquist, a pair of sisters, lead the way. The Seward boys will be masterminded by senior Alex Estes, junior Logan Smith and sophomore Jedediah Christianson.