Young Leadville Nordic skier Schamberger turns US ski team heads in Utah races

Antonio Olivero, Summit Daily
A Summit Nordic Ski Club racer competes in Casper, Wyoming, this past weekend at the club’s first event since the pandemic began.
Photo by Andy Stabile

FRISCO — The Summit Nordic Ski Club sent a pair of platoons to Casper, Wyoming, and Midway, Utah, this past weekend for their first races on snow since their seasons were cut short in March due to the pandemic.

At International Ski Federation races on the 2002 Winter Olympic course at Soldier Hollow in Utah, Summit Nordic 15-year-old Nina Schamberger of Leadville caught the eye of the national Nordic skiing community. Schamberger finished ninth in the skate sprint and seventh in the 10-kilometer classic in a pair of time trial start events that featured a collection of the country’s best youth, college and pro Nordic skiers.

Summit Nordic coach Olof Hedberg said the finishes would have qualified Schamberger for the Junior World Championship in Vuokatti, Finland, in February, but the Leadville resident is still too young to be selected.

In races that featured World Cup starters as old as 30, Schamberger’s finishes ranked her as the third and fourth fastest in the 15-19 age range.

“I have looked back at Summit Nordic Ski Club results from the last seven to eight years, and I don’t think we’ve ever had an athlete placing in a senior FIS race this high,” Hedberg said.

Hedberg said Schamberger and the other Summit Nordic skiers who raced the sprint at Soldier Hollow had to visualize the race, almost like a downhill skier would, due to the short time trial format.

“You have to visualize the course exactly and know what you’re doing at each part and execute that when your heart rate is toward its peak,” Hedberg said.

Schamberger was one of two 15-year-olds — the other being Samantha Smith of Sun Valley, Idaho — who turned the heads of college coaches and U.S. ski team members in Soldier Hollow. Despite being the youngest racers in the women’s field at the senior FIS event, Schamberger and Smith trailed only four skiers from the University of Utah — the top collegiate program in the nation — and one pro in the classic distance race.

“And they are 50 seconds ahead of the fastest 18-year-olds,” Hedberg said. “It’s a little bit of a mind-blowing result, to be honest.”

After several Summit Nordic events were canceled earlier this season due to COVID-19, Hedberg said Schamberger trained to reach her peak fitness this past weekend. For Hedberg, that meant convincing Schamberger that she doesn’t need to train all-out all the time. That’s a hard thing to hear for a skier who would like to train as much and as intense as World Cup Nordic skiers.

Instead, they focused on executing age-appropriate training with a focus on movements and sub-techniques.

“I’m definitely one of the athletes that always just wants to do more and more, but last year that got me in a bit of trouble,” Schamberger said. “I had to take two weeks off because I over trained.”

Other top Summit Nordic skiers in Soldier Hollow included Aubree Confer’s 44th overall and 13th in the U18 age group in skate and Gray Wasson’s 34th overall in the skate sprint.

Summit Nordic skiers pose for a celebratory photo in Casper, Wyoming, this past weekend, where the team had its first races on snow since the beginning of the pandemic.
Photo by Andy Stabile

Meanwhile, up in Casper at the National Ranking List races, Kai Oppito, 15, won both of his U16 boys races, 5K classic and skate, with his brother Bryce finishing seventh in the skate. Zander Bertonneau finished second in the U18 skate category while Sophia Bertonneau took first with Kiera Stabile in second in the classic. Zander Bertonneau also won the U18 classic race.

“I don’t know if there’s less of a distraction with COVID, but they have truly turned a leaf in their training and matured so much,” Hedberg said.

Oppito, a sophomore at Summit High School, credited Summit Nordic coaches and teammates for their motivation in recent months, when he said he was lacking social interactions at school. Oppito added that he felt safe with how the race was set up in Casper, saying the event site felt less risky than “going to the grocery store.”

Based on his experience at Solider Hollow, Hedberg concurred.

“Hopefully, we’ll race at our next races in two weeks at the same venue in Soldier Hollow,” Hedberg said. “The way they pulled it off this weekend, there were observers from the health department and the U.S. ski team, and I haven’t heard anything outside of positive feedback about this. I feel 100% confident this did not feel like anything more dangerous than the average daily life of a U.S. citizen at the moment.”