By Rick Lewis
Skiers’ ability to adapt and survive seemed to be the underlying theme of last weekend’s Race of the Methow on the Sean McCabe Trails at Liberty Bell High School.
The annual event featured local athletes and youth from around the Northwest in both classic and freestyle Nordic skiing, and serves as a qualifying event for regional and national events that usually take place later in the winter.
Changing conditions – from Friday’s sub-freezing temperatures in the 20s, to new snow and a slightly warmer Saturday, to Sunday’s mid 30-ish temps with light rain – and a new race format kept coaches busy and athletes adjusting during warm-ups and competition.
The event traditionally features heats of head-to-head racing with overall elapsed time being the determinant. This year, because of COVID-19 restrictions and protocols, the racing format was individual time trials in which skiers left the starting line at one-minute intervals – competing against the clock, the conditions and themselves. It was very difficult to tell, except in a few locations, how one was doing compared to the competition.
Methow Valley Nordic Ski Education Foundation Executive Director Pete Leonard thought the change in format wouldn’t be a negative factor. “About one-third of the races we attend use the time trial format,” Leonard pointed out. The time intervals are typically shorter than the one minute mandated by state COVID restrictions. “It definitely changes the dynamics of the race, but we’ve tried to keep the event as fun as possible,” Leonard said.
Methow Valley athletes were joined by several other clubs from around Washington, including the Puget Sound area, Leavenworth and Plain, and the Spokane vicinity. Age divisions defined the length of the course for the participants.
Saturday’s freestyle event featured a 3-kilometer course for the combined U18, and for the men’s and women’s U16 and U14 classes. U12 competitors skied a 2.5K course, U10 a 1.5K route and U8/Sit Ski were on a 1K course. On all but the 1K loop, course designer and head groomer Casey Smith built in a double “rise” feature –a pair of bumps near the bottom of a hill that provided a challenge for skiers and caused several to extend their time on the course by a few seconds.
In the 3K, Methow Valley Nordic Team alum Gretta Scholz of Colby College claimed first place, Jori Grialou was second and Gretta Laesch completed the sweep of the top three places for the Methow Valley. The men’s race was won by Derek Richardson of Leavenworth. Travis Grialou placed second and Lars Sorom, also of Leavenworth, placed third.
Sunday’s classic style extended the distance out to 10K for the U18 and men’s and women’s divisions, 5K for U16, 3K for U14, 2K for U12, and U10 and U8 classes used a 1K loop. Full results can be found online through mvnsef.org, search “webscorer.”
Walker Hall, recently named as an alternate to the U.S. Junior World competition, cruised to victory in the overall 10K classic race on Sunday by over a minute ahead of second-place Derek Richardson from Leavenworth. Methow Valley’s Travis Grialou placed third and skier/biathlete Alex Tareski placed fifth. Grialou’s sister, Jori, took first in the women’s 10K, followed by teammates Greta Laesch and Mariah-May Lucy. Gretta Scholz followed in fourth.
This coming weekend the McCabe Course will feature the second biathlon event of the season, the Sun of a Gun. It is another “closed” event – only coaches and one parent are permitted to enter the venue, per statewide COVID protocols. The course is open for training from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, and the event begins at 9 a.m. Sunday.