Nordic extreme Aspen-style |

Nordic extreme Aspen-style

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Colorado’s top Nordic prospects are descending on Aspen today for the first of two Junior Olympic qualifying races in the valley this weekend.

Beginning at 9 a.m. today, it’s a Rocky Mountain Division 1K sprint race behind the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club clubhouse. Saturday, starting at 10:30 a.m., it’s a combined RMD/high school race with the 5K Alpine Bank Classic at the Spring Gulch Ski Area above Carbondale.

More than 200 juniors are expected to compete in the sprint today, while more than 350 skiers in 22 divisions will line up on Saturday, making it one of the state’s largest Nordic races of the winter.

Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club standout Simi Hamilton ” who returned Monday from a two-week trip to Estonia with the U.S. Scandinavian Cup Team ” will be one skier to watch. About 40 AVSC athletes will be competing in both events, as well as skiers from the Colorado Rocky Mountain School and beyond.

As Alpine Bank Classic co-organizer Mark Clark of the Mount Sopris Nordic Council put it, “Pretty much every school that has a ski program will be represented.” That includes Steamboat Springs, Durango, Summit County, Leadville, Eagle Valley, Battle Mountain and the Vail Mountain School.

Both events will feature middle school-aged racers on up through high school and early college. At stake today and Saturday are coveted berths to the Junior Olympics; on Saturday, the stakes double as the race counts toward qualifying for the Feb. 20-21 high school state championships in Steamboat Springs.

The combined Aspen High/AVSC girls team has won four consecutive high school titles, while the AHS/AVSC boys have won two of the last four, finishing second to Summit last year. Both teams will be out in force.

“I’m hoping they pull out all the stops and gun it,” said Travis Moore, an AHS teacher and AVSC nordic coach who serves as the coach of the AHS/AVSC nordic teams. “Saturday is the last high school race and the state championships are two weeks away.”

Other AVSC/AHS skiers to watch include Brandon Cooper, Noah Hoffman, Geoff Walker and John Hatanaka, and Laura Hatanaka, Erin Kiernan and Cori Hach.

The first-place divisional finishers in today’s sprint race qualify automatically for the Junior Olympics, while others will earn slots today and Saturday by posting finishes within a certain percentage of the leaders’ times.

Hamilton, however, already a three-time Colorado high school state champion and two-time Junior Olympic champion, is pre-qualified for the J-1 division (for 16- and 17-year-olds) Junior Olympics, the result of winning his first-ever U.S. National Championship last month in Rumford, Maine. At the weeklong event, Hamilton won the J-1 skate race, took second in the J-1 classic, and capped things off with a third in the J-1 sprint event.

Last year at the 3-year-old RMD sprint race at AVSC, Hamilton took second in the J-2 event ” behind friend and AVSC teammate Brandon Cooper, also an AHS junior. In the Alpine Bank Classic at Spring Gulch, he was sixth.

Today and Saturday, Hamilton will be racing in the oldest division, the J-1/O-J class (O-J for “older junior,” up to 20 years old).

“The sprint course has some really steep hills,” Hamilton said last night. “It’s hillier than most courses, but it’s got enough recovery so it’s OK. It’s definitely going to make you work hard.”

Still tired from traveling to the Gulf of Finland and back, Hamilton didn’t make any grand predictions about the weekend events.

“Probably the smart thing to do is take it easy,” he said, “because I’m already qualified for JOs (Junior (Olympics) and to give my body a break, because I’m still pretty tired from traveling. But we’ll see how it goes.”

Hamilton’s coach, however, had a different take.

“He has been back at sea level, so I’ll be interested to see how he does,” said Moore, “especially considering he’s already qualified … But he’ll be right in there, I bet. He always is. He might be more tired than I’ve recognized, but he might just win the whole thing; he usually does.

“Simi’s just an amazing athlete. He does everything like that. Get him in a kayak or on a mountain bike ” same thing.”

Racing runs from 9 a.m. to about 2:30 p.m. today. On Saturday, the interval-start format will see racing from 10:30 a.m. until about 2:30 p.m.

[Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is]


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