Five of the six CXC athletes (Johanna Winters, Kristina Owen, Matt Liebsch, Brian Gregg and Garrott Kuzzy) departed Hayward, WI in our new and much improved van for West Yellowstone, Montana. Clear roadways allowed us to easily make eastern Montana on the first day and we comfortably arrived in West Yellowstone in the afternoon on the 15th.
Snow or the lack there of, was the major topic of discussion for the first days in West Yellowstone. We had been forewarned and therefore brought rollerskis along. There were shades of optimism with white in the hills above West Yellowstone and icy patches on the roadways from a recent overnight snow. The morning of the 16th brought further encouragement with another inch or two of overnight snows.
We made the trek up to the higher elevations above the Rendezvous Trails (locally known as the plateau). The new snow provided an opportunity for ungroomed classic skiing. There was no base, so rock skis were necessary.
“West Yellowstone got an inch or two overnight, so we headed up to the plateau to see what it was like up there. As we had hoped, the inch down low was more than enough to ski up high. We busted out our rock skis, and laid down the first tracks of the year. It felt so good to be off rollerskis and on real snow” –Kristina Owen
“Garrott, Matt and I thought we’d play a harmless practical joke on the APU team at the end of our distance classic ski. Their warm-ups lay aside the trail where they started their interval session, so we created a little welcome sign with their warm-ups.” (picture below)
November 17 and 18
Warm afternoon and overnight temperatures on the 16th diminished the small base of snow, so it was back to rollerskis. Andre Watt arrived in West Yellowstone on Friday, so the whole team headed out on Saturday and Sunday morning for rollerski workouts into Yellowstone Park. Our Sunday skate over distance rollerski into the park was the most notable. The “closed” Yellowstone park road was overtaken by rollerskiers of various ages and abilities. We ran into many familiar faces including Craig Rudd from Minneapolis. Craig ended up joining Andre, Matt, Garrott and Brian and made the trek all the way to Madison Junction and back. We ran into some locals, including trumpeter swans, geese, elk and bison. Below is a picture of Garrott and Matt with elk along the Madison River as well as the American Bison herd.
“One of the highlights of the week was our ski into Yellowstone Park—albeit on rollerskis. The road in the park was closed to cars, so there were no worries about traffic. The wildlife in the park was abundant. It was the first time I’ve skied into the park since coming to West Yellowstone and it certainly won’t be the last!” -Garrott Kuzzy
November 19 – 22
Monday was a day off for our athletes and snow was predicted for Tuesday the 20th. The owners of Free Heel N Wheel assisted the forecast and organized a sacrificial burning of brand new skis on the streets of West Yellowstone on Monday night. In the next 12 hours it snowed a foot. We were able to break out good skis on Tuesday morning and the skiing held up very well throughout the whole week despite the minimal snow coverage. Special thanks to the groomers and volunteers.
Thanksgiving dinner played a dual role. It was a pre-race dinner, but it was also a unique opportunity to join the Elite team, the newly formed junior team, coaches, CXC administrative staff as well as parents, relatives and spouses. It was a great way to lead into the first races of the season.
“We went to bed on Monday with the understanding that the races would most likely be canceled due to lack of snow. I wasn’t sure I was awake yet when I opened the blinds on Tuesday morning to nearly 12” of snow. Going from no snow, to solid snow skiing is a skiers dream. “ –Brian Gregg
November 23 – Skate Sprint Race: 1.65km Men, 850m Women
Initial temperatures were colder than predicted hitting overnight lows less than ten degrees below zero. The cold temperatures were soon replaced by clear and sunny skies and temperatures in the mid to lower twenties during the heats. Our skis and wax job were running well, but we found it absolutely critical to have skis with cold or fine structure.
All six CXC Elite athletes and four CXC junior athletes competed. Two CXC Elite athletes made it into the 16 person heats with Garrott Kuzzy qualifying in first and Brian Gregg qualifying in eighth. Garrott ended up winning the A final and Brian placed second in the B final (6th overall). Laura Valaas (former CXC Elite member and present US Ski Team/APU) won the women’s event.
Other notable Midwest finishers were Lindsay Williams 5th, Bryan Cook 5th, Adam Swank 2nd in the Masters division (17th overall) and Jesse Diggins 3rd in the junior division (24th overall).
November 24 – Classic Distance Race – 8 km women and 16 km men
Overnight lows were slightly higher than the prior day, but the glide wax, ski flex and structure were all similar to that of the sprint race. We ended up selecting stiffer skis with fine structure once again. The course was changed to a four kilometer loop race to accommodate the low snow conditions, so the women skied two laps and the men skied four. We remained conscious of any deterioration of the track and made subtle classic kick wax changes. Our glide remained unchanged.
It was a close and competitive field for both the men and women. The one exception was Kristina Strandberg’s unmatched performance on the women’s side, winning by almost a minute. The remainder of the women’s field was quite close. Johanna Winters was CXC’s top finisher in 23rd with Kristina finishing 33rd twenty-two seconds back.
Garrott led most of the first two laps, but it was only by a few seconds. Zimmerman, Johnson, True and Sinnott along with Garrott raced very well the last lap and a half. Garrott finished 4th overall. Brian Gregg, Andre Watt and Matt Liebsch all had solid results placing 22nd, 26th, and 35th, respectively.
Other notable Midwest results were Lindsay Williams 4th, Lindsey Dehlin (formerly Weier) 17th, Jesse Diggins 31st, Gus Kaeding 14th, Bryan Cook 15th, Ben Fick 17th, Jesse Lang 23rd.
“Today was a fair performance for me considering it was only my 3rd time on classic skis this year. I was a little farther back than I would have liked, but now I know where my strengths and weakness are this year and I look forward to improving on those areas.” Andre Watt
November 25 – 27
We concluded the week with an over distance classic ski over three hours on Sunday. This week is rigorous with over twenty hours of training for the men including three intensity sessions and three strength sessions. Monday was a scheduled off day, but we were back at it on Tuesday. Two-three inches of snow fell which rejuvenated the Rendezvous Ski Trails. West Yellowstone still appears to be one of the only trail systems with good snow. Our next major competition is in Bozeman, Montana on December 8th and 9th.