Valley’s Nordic contingent competed well
Methow Valley Nordic’s Ben Kaufman brought home gold from Soldier Hollow, Utah, last weekend, battling his way through warm, sloppy snow conditions and three heats to win the 1.2-kilometer U16 sprint title.
The victory is another step toward qualifying for a trip to the Junior National Championships at Lake Placid, New York, in mid-March.
Kaufman’s gold medal sprints highlighted a weekend of solid performances by local skiers at the site of the 2002 Winter Olympic games. Aidan Sands earned a trip to the finals in the U16 class, placing fifth and also earning valuable points toward Lake Placid.
The sprints feature a full field time trial where the top 30 placers are entered in the quarterfinals. From there, the first- and second-place winners of each quarterfinal, as well as the fastest two non-winners, advance to the preliminary heats for the six-skier final. The quarter-, semi, and finals are head-to-head, as opposed to the time trial format.
In the first set of five qualifying heats in the boys’ U16 class, Kaufman and Sands drew the fourth heat, setting up a daylong match up through the bracket for the local teammates.
Under customary winter conditions, the day is grueling enough. Higher than normal temperatures provided for softer, stickier and slower snow, demanding more effort to complete each heat. The track conditions deteriorating as the day progressed.
“By the time the finals were run,” said coach and youth program director Pete Leonard, “the snow on the track had begun to crumble and turn to mush.”
Leonard pointed especially to the turns, where skiers were digging with their poles and pushing hard on their skis.
“It makes it very difficult to turn and guide your skis when it’s like that. You want to turn and your ski wants to go straight,” he said.
That proved to be a game changer in the last turn for Kaufman during the U16 final. Leonard said Kaufman took a chance and went inside, fought his way through the quagmire and was able to get by Landon Laverdiere of Colorado as they sprinted toward the finish.
Kaufman crossed the line just 8/100ths of a second in front of Laverdiere, 3:15.16 to 3:15.24. Sands crossed in fifth.
Maren Sands and Anja Merkens led a four-member Methow Valley contingent in the girls’ U-14 class. Merkens was the No. 2 qualifier into the sprint quarterfinals.
Wylie Smith and Sammy DeSalvo qualified for the U16 girls’ sprint quarterfinals, but neither was able to advance past that. In the qualifying race, Smith placed 19th and DeSalvo finished in 25th. Alida Burt skied her way to a 62nd place out of the 89 racers.
Emmett Bondi and Dexter Delaney placed 52nd and 53rd in the morning qualifier, but did not qualify to advance with the top 30 of the U20 class for males. River Ferguson finished 37th in the sprint trial, just 4.5 seconds out of the 30th and final qualifying spot of the boys’ U16 class. Soren DeCuir placed 74th out of the 112 racers.
Dylan Sands placed third and Nils Smith was 22nd overall in the boys’ U12 qualifier. Lena Decuir was the second-place finisher in the girls’ U-12 class.
Friday night provided a little relief for athletes weary of the soft track conditions, according to Leonard, as the temperature dropped into the 20s and firmed up the surface for the freestyle event.
With an interval start, the freestyle races are individual time-trial based, at varying distances depending on the age level. The U12-U14 groupings race for 4 kilometers, U16 skiers go 5K, and the U18 and U20 groups ski a 7.5K course.
A bright spot for the Methow team came in the girls’ U12/14 race, with three local skiers placing in the top 12. Maren Sands led the way with a third-place finish at 10 minutes 33.3 seconds. Anja Merkens was in fourth place just 6/10 of a second behind, and Sisu Clark not far behind in 11th place.
An even brighter spot was in the girls U-12 category, where Lena Decuir skied to a first-place finish, just one week after her first-place overall in the Chasing the Sun biathlon event back home. The Methow Valley sixth-grader crossed the finish line at 10:49.2, over a half-minute faster than second-place Saylor Archie of Winter Park, Colorado.
Other freestyle results included Dylan Sands (45th) and Nils Smith (85th) in the 97-racer boys’ U14 and U12 combined. Sammy DeSalvo was 31st, Wylie Smith 38th and Alida Burt 54th in the girls’ U16 race.
Aidan Sands placed sixth, Ben Kaufman 12th, River Ferguson 47th and Soren Decuir 69th in the boys’ U16. Dexter Delaney placed 60th and Emmet Bondi placed 95th in the boys’ U18-20 freestyle.
Race of the Methow
The local Nordics ski again this coming weekend in the Race of the Methow, on the Sean McCabe Trail system at Liberty Bell High School. Snow conditions were sketchy early in the week, with only about 6 inches of standing snow at the site.
“I think the groomed tracks for the sprints are going to be fine, but we might have a few problem spots on the longer-distance cross country track,” Leonard said on Monday. “We can move a little snow around to cover up some patches, but if we lose enough, we’ll have to consider moving for the distance races.”
One possible alternate site, if needed, might be the Chickadee trailhead near Sun Mountain Lodge. “There might be some logistical challenges to that, so we’re hoping and going to work hard to keep it at the high school,” Leonard said. “It will probably be close to a last-minute decision.”
The Race of the Methow is the third of four races that offer points to qualify for Junior Nationals in March. The first two races, at Bend, Oregon, and last week’s Soldier Hollow race, are the first of the series of regional Junior National qualifiers.
“Right now we have several kids that look good, points-wise, for a trip to Lake Placid in March,” said Leonard. “We’re hoping we can get a few more qualified here and at Mount Spokane in February.”
Racing gets underway Saturday morning at 9 a.m. with the freestyle sprints and continues through the morning. A community race begins at 1 p.m. On Sunday the classic mass starts are at 9 a.m., with racing until approximately noon. The public is invited and there is no charge for admission.
Dickinson back to World Championships
Methow Valley Nordic and Biathlon alumnus, and 2011 Liberty Bell High School graduate Kelsey Dickinson will represent the United States at the 2024 International Biathlon Union’s World Championships in the Czech Republic, the US Biathlon Association announced recently.
It will be Dickinson’s second consecutive trip to the World Championships as a representative of the United States. She skied and shot last year at Oberhof, Germany, where she placed 67th individually and was on the U.S. relay team that placed 15th.