Club athletes preparing for an altered Nordic calendar this winter ski season
FRISCO — Summit County Nordic ski athletes and coaches are preparing for a more regionally focused cross-country ski season after U.S. Ski & Snowboard canceled senior and junior national championship competitions for the season due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Rather than train and compete for spots at the U.S. senior and junior national championships, top local racers will center their season around qualifying for a regional championship. U.S. Ski & Snowboard cross-country program director Chris Grover said in a message to club coaches that the association opted for these regional events — not sanctioned as national championship or Continental Cup level events — because the governing body feels the nature of cross-country ski racing events is dissimilar to other U.S. Ski & Snowboard disciplines.
The association said in the announcement that cross-country event formats, even in individual-start racing, present challenges where athletes are in such close proximity that it does not easily allow for a combined field of athletes from different geographical regions. U.S. Ski & Snowboard shared several other reasons behind its decision, including that the association had heard from multiple coaches and clubs that don’t have the ability to travel to a given race location due to COVID-19 regulations.
“By developing strong regional calendars now, we take away some of the uncertainty surrounding the race season, providing athletes realistic targets to train for, while keeping them motivated for racing,” Grover said in the message to coaches.
Summit Nordic Ski Club head coach Olof Hedberg agreed the calendar change creates certainty for athletes. Hedberg said the early decision is allowing clubs and families to plan for the season, which is especially important this year because travel and lodging will be different due to COVID-19.
The coach said Summit Nordic Ski Club athletes will go to West Yellowstone, Montana, at the end of November for their first event of the season before a number of Rocky Mountain region events. Then it’s looking like U16 and older skiers will get the chance to race against the best skiers in the Rocky Mountain, Inter Mountain, Pacific Northwest and Far West regions at a regional championship in Soldier Hollow, Utah, in March. Younger skiers will race regionally in Colorado.
“Obviously, if you’re looking at the top 30 positions in these events, it won’t mean as much as a top 30 at senior nationals because you’re missing out on the East and Alaska and the Midwest,” Hedberg said. “But these western championships, I think many of our (Summit Nordic Ski Club) skiers’ goals will be to qualify for that event.”
Coaches like Hedberg and Jim Galanes are waiting to see what the International Ski Federation will decide for its 2020-21 calendar, as the international governing body has delayed the deadline for a decision to Oct. 15. Hedberg and Galanes said it’s likely the closest thing to a replacement for senior nationals will be an FIS regional event hosted in Soldier Hollow, likely in January.
Galanes, who coaches youth Nordic and mountain bike athletes, said he feels there is no certainty about what’s the right or wrong thing to do in terms of resuming sporting competitions during COVID-19 because much is still being learned about the virus, namely heart health conditions such as myocarditis. The respected veteran Nordic ski coach, who coached for a half-dozen years with the U.S. Ski Team, said he supposes it’s up to each person to decide whether the risk is manageable for them and their clubs, though he said he’s heard from some coaches who are deciding to stay closer to home to minimize risk.
“Everyone likes to say kids don’t have the same severity of the disease, but we don’t know that for a fact yet,” Galanes said. “The science is emerging and changing every day. It’s prudent to be safe.”
“The kids that I coach that are mountain bike racing, they are being super careful,” Galanes added. “They’ve got their own family motor homes, so it’s pretty self-contained when they go to races. I think the chance of being exposed during a race itself is pretty minimal, but it’s the kind of standing around, the activities around the race are the things in my mind that get a little bit challenging.”