Season’s Endings

When someone asks how my season went this year, I have typically been replying “there were ups and downs, but it ended really well.” That might be it, or someone might want more details.  Typical follow-ups are along the lines of “where was your favorite place?” and “what’s next?”  This post is to enlighten all those who wish for answers to life’s big questions.

First we are going to talk about downs. The big one for me was US Nationals in January.  I travelled down to Bozeman, MT to visit my parents for Christmas and put in a bit of an altitude block of training before US Nationals.  My sister came directly from the World Cup to make it a full family affair.  Unfortunately, a bad bug had gone through the entire US team, and she came to Bozeman not feeling healthy.  I figured that if I was careful I would be able to withstand an attack to my immune system.  After all, Bozeman should be a super low stress environment: no work, assistance cooking, easy training, and holiday stuff.  Simple really.  And for the most part this worked.  I made it through over two weeks healthy, then got sick two days before US Nationals. Theoretically, the best race for me at Nationals would have been the first race, a 15k skate interval start.  I struggled through two of the three laps with decent times, but fell apart on the third lap to a 17th place finish.  Not what I wanted, was capable of, or needed for qualification to World Championships.  Over the next few days, I skipped the sprints to try and get a bit of energy back for the 30k later in the week.  By the time the 30k rolled around, I wasn’t feeling 100%, but could fight a bit better.  I emerged in 4th place after a long struggle with slick skis, mucus, and low energy.  One place higher and I would have been in the running for World Championships.

The other big bummers were canceled races.  After Nationals, we travelled to Truckee, California for a couple more races.  The skiing was great early in the week, but a storm moved in for the races.  Road conditions forced the 10k skate race to be cancelled.  That race was going to be my resurgence after disappointing time at US Nationals.

The American Birkie was the other big disappointment with cancellation.  By then I was feeling good and ready to get in a fun 50k skate with some serious prize money.  It became clear right when we arrived that the race was a long shot.  Luckily, the family we stayed with kept us entertained with nightly games, daily broomball, and a whole host of other activities.

Not much skiing to be found at the Birkie trail.
Alternative entertainment during Birkie week.

Now for ups.  The fun parts to write about. Early season was quite good for me.  I won a lot of the warm up races in Alaska and doubled poled to a win West Yellowstone.  For the period 1 supertours, I double poled one to moderate success and managed to win the skate race in Silverstar.  While I didn’t get the Supertour leader going into Nationals, I was sitting in a good position. Then came the Nationals detailed above.

South Korea was also a highlight.  We didn’t get to spend much time exploring the area, it was still awesome to see the Olympic courses and define a focus for the season to come.  I was also satisfied with my racing included 9th in the skiathalon.  Most of that was detailed in another post.

Then came the end of the season.  Following the cancelled Birkie, David Norris and I travelled over to Oslo, Norway for Homenkollen.  Homenkollen was one of my highlights of the previous season and my highest World Cup result (prior to Korea) so I was psyched to get another shot at it. Having David around experiencing it for the first time just made it more exciting.  When race day dawned, it was beautiful.  The famous Oslo fog was absent and the crowds turned out in droves. I raced to a 28th place (first European World Cup points) continually fueled and entertained by the roar of the crowds, hot dogs thrown on the trail, snowballs lobbed at the fading Norwegians, and continual chants of “USA, USA” or “Scott, Scott.” Waffles and brown cheese after finished the day nicely.

Train ride to skiing. Just a little busy.
Exploring Oslo by foot.
Photo: Jason Albert (Fasterskier)

World Cup finals was next, a 3-race mini tour held in Quebec City.  Although, I don’t think I raced the best there, I did manage to pick up one more World Cup point with a 30th place finish in the skate pursuit race on the final day. The weekend of racing started off alright in the sprint.  I didn’t qualify, but that was to be expected. However, I did feel somewhat accomplished by qualifying ahead of certain other racers from the US and elsewhere.  For the 10k classic race on the 2nd day, things started well, but were quickly derailed by a small crash.  The final day’s skate pursuit, where I scored more points, was better.  Based on the pursuit start format and everyone’s previous results in the minitour, I started right in front of a 30-person wave start and could lead the group for much of the race. About six of us came together into the finish and while my sprint wasn’t bad, the three second advantage I had on the wave resulted in faster time-of-day results from the other 5 which was somewhat frustrating.

For the end of the season, I finally returned to Alaska for the first time since December.  I spent a week in Anchorage first, trying to get my life in order but then it was back to racing in Fairbanks. We had four more races to cap out the season: skiathalon, skate sprint, relay, and skate 50k.  All fun races and very skate heavy, since I was expecting to fill a 5k skate leg in the mixed team relay.  My classic form was alright, as evidence by Homenkollen, but skating just takes one of the variables out of the mix.  Also, I have a reputation as a skate skier.

The skiathalon started the week with a bang.  As top seeded skier, I took it to heart leading most of the classic leg.  When we passed through the transition, suddenly three APU teammates and myself had put a few second on everyone. I decided to punch it. At the time, I figured we could just make people work extra hard to close the gap, but it ended up being the winning move. Eric Packer followed for several kilometers, but soon I was on my own and feeling strong.  Winning was just a matter of making it to the finish.

The sprint wasn’t quite so dramatic but was quite important in other regards.  I qualified in 7th and ended the day in 9th. What this did was bump me into the Supertour overall lead for the season.  World Cup starts for the fall were only dependent on a good 50k result.

The relay was the only bummer of the week.  APU had won every previous edition but Stratton vanquished the blue army in Fairbanks. Previous year, we had been aided by plagues running rampant on the Stratton team, so this year was going to be a battle as they were a bit healthier.  I anchored the team into 2nd  after having been tagged with an 18 second deficit, unable to gain enough ground on Simi Hamilton, one of the US’s top skiers.  I needed a bit more time than the 11-minute course to weigh my distance prowess against his sprinting strength.

Only one race was left for the season, a mass start 50k skate for me. A little rain and warming conditions made things a bit interesting, but in the end, we had plenty of time to adapt to that.  From the start, I worked on controlling the race.  I always was near the front either getting frustrated at the slow pace or making sure that the pace was what I wanted. About 15k into the race while we were going up one of the significant climbs, my pace setting fractured the pack.  Only two athletes, Brian Gregg and Michael Sompi, came with me.  Michael lasted about 5k further, so it was down to Brian and me to build time on the rest of the field.  About 5k later, after leading the entire time, I decided that I might as well ski on my own.  I noticed Brian weakening on a few of the hills, so I surged on a couple.  On one of these, the move stuck and I quickly distanced myself.  I still had about half the race to complete solo.  Over the next hour, I tired, but not as much as the rest of the field. I managed to build a lead of over three minutes to come home with my second US National title and secure the Supertour Overall title.

Starting the 50k. Photo: Bryan Fish

In retrospect, it is hard to say it is a bad season when I won a US National title, took the overall Supertour title, scored World Cup points 3 times, and won quite a few other races; however, one of my big goals was to make World Championships and race well there.  Thus, I am left satisfied overall, but with a slight hint of bitterness.

Next question: favorite venue?  Homenkollen. It is hard to beat 50,000 superfans, perfect weather, and first European World Cup points. Pyeongchang can have second place.

What is next?  Next season obviously.  Training, adventuring, and more of both.  Then racing in the fall.


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