Skiers will enter the great unknown today and Saturday at Tsalteshi Trails in the Region III Nordic Ski Championships.
And they are just fine with that.
Will it snow? Or will the conditions stay blazing fast, as they have been since the snowpack froze rock-solid weeks ago?
Will a ski glide smoothly? Or will it stutter over the forest debris that blanketed the trails in a windstorm just a week ago?
Will the competition be similar to the Lynx Loppet held way back in mid-December, the last time most of the region schools got together? Or have things changed in the hit-or-miss training conditions of this season?
And what will it be like to race a classic race if there are no classic tracks?
“Conditions may not be the best,” said Kenai Central coach Brad Nyquist, who was in a bus this season that crashed on the way to a Valdez meet. “Things may be a bit adverse, but that’s the way this season has gone.
“It’s been a season of constant change, and it has forced us to adapt, but that’s what we as ski teams seem to do.”
Alaska spring sports may disagree a little bit, but there is no Alaska prep sport that is affected by the weather as much as skiing.
The long warm and wet spell in the middle of this winter was a perfect example. But central Kenai Peninsula coaches say they were able to keep skiing at Tsalteshi Trails.
“Bill Holt and his crew have been doing an amazing job to keep things skiable,” Skyview head coach Kent Peterson. “Bill has been working his magic, but I think he’s getting pretty tired.”
And coaches fully expect Holt’s wizardry to make the best course possible for today’s freestyle races, starting at 2 p.m., and Saturday’s classical races, starting at 11 a.m.
“I think it’s going to be good come the actual first day,” Soldotna coach Dan Harbison said. “Plus, there’s snow in the forecast. If there is snow, that’ll change everything.”
As things stand now, fans wanting to watch today’s freestyle race had best not blink.
“It’s not an overly killer course so they should be able to keep speed around most of it,” Harbison said. “It should take around 13 minutes to do five kilometers. They’re going to be flying around there.”
Who will be flying around the fastest is anyone’s guess, because all the teams haven’t skied together in so long, and because teams have had varying training conditions based on location.
Last week, coach Eric Groth and his Homer squad showed up a day early for the borough meet just to do some skiing.
“There’s been three different occasions this year where we lost snow entirely and had to go back to running,” Groth said. “It’s been rough for us.”
Nikiski coach Anna Widman, who will have JV skiers at the meet, said the trails at the school have been too dangerous. The Bulldogs had been using the trails at the recreation center until the windstorm. Now, they must travel to Tsalteshi to practice.
Nyquist said his boys squad is eyeing a region title.
“If everybody skis a good race, I don’t see why they couldn’t be in the top end,” he said.
The Kards will be led by Travis Cooper, one of the region’s top skiers along with Daniel Serventi of Grace Christian. After that, it will fall to Fox Michaud, Olen Danielson, James Butler, Liam Floyd and Nate Mole to provide enough good performances for the win.
Harbison said his guess is the Kenai and Colony boys will vie for first. He said his boys will have to overcome Palmer to take third.
The coach said the JV races will show his program has plenty of depth, but said varsity skiers Colton Diehl, Tanner Best, Levi Michael, Addison Downing, Aaron Swedberg and Drew Kant will have to excel to pass the Moose.
“We’ve only seen the Palmer team once,” Harbison said. “It’s this great unknown where they are now. But I think they’ve been on pretty good snow given the winter.”
Peterson also said his boys are coming on strong after being slowed by the weather and the same bus accident that involved the Kenai squad. Peterson expects a solid performance in Skyview’s last region meet before closing the school doors in the spring.
The coach said Brenner Musgrave has his eye on a top-10 finish. The other hard-working, improving varsity skiers are Sky Schlung, Jeremiah Hudson, Sterling Stasak, Daniel Shuler and Logan Hemphill.
Groth said the Mariners will be led by Brian Rowe. Also skiing on varsity will be Josh Vantrease, Hoxie Parks, Tadhg Scholz, Ryan Navrot and Tianen Liu.
For Seward, varsity skiers Jerry Swanson and Nick Zweifel were the leaders at boroughs.
On the girls side, Sadie Fox will lead Soldotna’s pursuit of a region crown.
“We haven’t gotten to see how they’re doing at this stage of the game with any Anchorage or Valley schools, so we’ll see,” Harbison said. “I know they’re ready to go.”
With a third-place finish at Lynx Loppet and solid performances in Besh Cup, Fox has stamped herself as one of the state’s top skiers and the favorite to win regions.
Hannah Pothast is mostly recovered from illness and should be right behind Fox. Then it will be up to Dani McCormick, Olivia Hutchings, Molly Erickson, Emily Werner and Xochi Harbison to shave crucial seconds.
The Skyview girls will be led by Mika Morton, who finished second to Fox in a 5K skate Saturday.
“For her mentally, that was a big step,” Peterson said. “Now she can approach these races knowing she has the potential to do really well.”
Peterson said Mieka Chythlook also has been coming on strong, while Brittany Hollers and Sage Link will fill the crucial slots that give Skyview a scoring team.
Nyquist said the Stars have been pretty far ahead of his girls, so the focus is improvement. He said varsity skiers Kirsten Nyquist, Alex Bergholtz, Katie Cooper and Mikaela Salzetti are all intent on finishing the season strong.
Groth said he has a solid top three in Aspen Daigle, Cassidy Soistman and Rachel Ellert. He said the three are all pretty close. He said Mariah Vantrease and Audrey Russel will fight to be the final scorer for varsity.