Nordic invasion hits Aspen this weekend |

Nordic invasion hits Aspen this weekend

ASPEN For the next four days, consider Aspen the epicenter of the nordic world.As many as 500 cross country racers, from novices to SuperTour elites and former Olympians, will descend on the Roaring Fork Valley for the Aspen Nordic Festival, which begins today and culminates with Saturday’s renowned Owl Creek Chase. “This [weekend] is a big deal, especially for the athletes and for the kids,” Aspen High School head nordic coach Travis Moore said Wednesday.The event kicks off today at 9 a.m. at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club with 5- and 10-kilometer classics. In addition to being a United States Ski and Snowboard Association-sanctioned event, today also is a Junior Olympic qualifier and is expected to draw the nation’s top amateurs. Former Aspen High and AVSC standout Noah Hoffman, who surprised many with an eighth-place finish at the U.S. Cross Country Championships on New Year’s Day in Houghton, Mich., will compete on a technical course he knows well.Natalie Ward, another local, will look to defend her title in tonight’s drag races at Wagner Park, which start at 5:30. Skiers will compete in a head-to-head format on an 80-meter track encircling the park. Kids take center stage at the AVSC clubhouse Friday. Aspiring skiers, ages 8 to 14, will take part in the youth festival, which begins at 9 a.m. with 1K and 2K races, and continues with a wide variety of different activities. In addition to an obstacle course, a biathlon and a speed course, participants will have the opportunity to ski alongside professional factory team members.Saturday marks the beginning of the festival’s marquee event, the 21st annual Owl Creek Chase. The Chase is the ninth stop on this year’s USSA SuperTour calendar and is a fixture in both the Colorado Cup and International Ski Federation’s Marathon Cup Series. This weekend is believed to mark the first time Aspen will host two SuperTour events in one season, Moore said. The country’s and the world’s top athletes will take part in the 25K, which starts at 9 a.m. at the Snowmass Cross Country Center. The course loops around the Snowmass Club’s golf course before heading to the undulating Owl Creek Trail. From there, competitors will cross the Buttermilk ski area and the Tiehack pedestrian bridge, then complete laps around the Moore Open Space before racing to the Aspen Golf Course.Last year’s men’s race culminated with a thrilling sprint to the finish. University of Utah student Josh Smullin outdueled 2006 Chase winner Zach Simons down the final straightaway to pull out the elite division victory in 1 hour, 11 minutes, 41.45 seconds. On the women’s side, Swede Kristina Strandberg won for a second consecutive time. New this year, the top J1s (17- and 18-year-olds) and others will compete in a 15K that starts at the base of Snowmass’ Two Creeks lift at 10 a.m. and concludes, like the 25K, at the Aspen Cross Country Center. Aspen’s high school team, which includes six females and males Whit Parker, Ben Armstrong and Bryce Gordon, will compete today and Saturday in what will be their second-to-last tune-up before the state championships in Steamboat Springs on Feb. 21 and 22. The nine athletes, who already have qualified for state, will take part in another Junior Olympic qualifier next weekend in Durango.Parker, Armstrong and Gordon, a trio that finished second in two high school races Jan. 26 in Leadville, skied the 15K Chase course Tuesday.”They’re a little nervous about it, but they’re excited to give it a shot,” Moore said. “I’m hoping [that competing on home snow] is an advantage for our guys and girls.”They’re focused mainly on qualifying and having good races [today] and Saturday. As far as the enormity of the event, I don’t think they realize it yet.”For a complete schedule of this weekend’s events, visit

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