Aspen Skiers high school nordic team wins national championship
pitkin county correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
SOLDIER HOLLOW, Utah ” A lingering cold might have kept Aspen nordic skier Noah Hoffman out of one Junior Olympics race, but it couldn’t keep him off the podium altogether.
And it couldn’t keep Aspen High School from adding to its accolades this winter.
The standout senior, who was nursing a sore throat on the eve of the Junior Olympics at Soldier Hollow in Utah, decided to sit out the opening-day 1.3-kilometer sprint to rest up for distance events. The decision worked to near perfection: Hoffman won individual gold and silver medals, plus a gold in Saturday’s relay.
Those results, coupled with strong performances from Skiers teammates Scott Lacy, Whit Parker, Ryan Waldron and Ben Armstrong, helped Aspen clinch the high school national championship – its second in three years.
It’s been quite a month for the Skiers, who, less than three weeks before their trip to Utah, swept both podiums at the state championships in Vail, propelling them to their eighth state title.
“It’s been an educational year with a lot of ups and downs,” Hoffman said Sunday. “But this is a great ending.”
Hoffman wasn’t quite 100 percent entering Wednesday’s 15K skate, but said he felt strong enough to push the pace at the start. Two-thirds of the way through, Hoffman attempted to pull away on the course’s hilliest section; he opened up a gap of 15 meters over Alaskans Lex Treinen and Patrick Johnson, but he couldn’t keep up the pace. He fell behind early in the third lap and found himself third, nearly 10 seconds behind.
“He could’ve settled for bronze and skied it in, but he put his head down and charged,” coach John Callahan said. “It was a huge effort on his part. He wasn’t at 100 percent. You could see that.”
Hoffman kept pace on the course’s flat sections then attacked on the final hill. He and Treinen were side-by-side during the final 100-meter sprint, but Hoffman was two seconds slower.
Hoffman returned the favor in Friday’s 10-kilometer classic, when he bested Treinen by more than 14 seconds for gold. He went out fast at the start, which was an individual staggered start set up much like a time trial. Callahan and other Rocky Mountain Division coaches made sure to keep Hoffman abreast of his splits as he negotiated the course. Hoffman maintained a two-second lead on Treinen at multiple points during the first lap. He maintained the slim lead even after fatigue started to set in.
“At the top of the hill on the second lap, I felt like I was bonking a little bit,” said Hoffman, the No. 1 nordic skier his age in the country. “I was slowing down, but my splits didn’t change much. I was lucky in that sense.”
One kilometer from the finish, Hoffman’s lead had grown to six seconds. And, spurred on by a host of Rocky Mountain Division coaches lining the course, he sprinted the final 30 meters.
Hoffman teamed up with Durango’s John Gerstenberger and Miles Havlick of Boulder to win Saturday’s three-by-5K relay. The trio bested its nearest competitions by 44 seconds.
Callahan and the Aspen boys who qualified to compete in Utah would find out later Saturday that they had claimed the high school championship. Organizers tallied the top three results for each racer from the distance races, then combined the totals for each of the schools represented. The Skiers finished five points ahead of Wood River High (Sun Valley, Idaho); coincidentally, five points was Aspen’s margin over rival Summit at state.
Aspen sophomore Lacy started slow last week, as did the rest of the team – he and teammate Laura Hatanaka were the only skiers to advance past sprint qualifying, and both lost in the quarterfinals ” but recorded some strong results later in the week. He was out in front at the start of the 5K skate Wednesday, lost some steam, fell behind but still managed to hang on for 12th.
Lacy improved Friday, taking sixth in the 5K classic among J2 competitors.
“He had a much better day, but he still wasn’t quite 100 percent,” Callahan said. “Going into the state tournament really took a lot out of us, not so much physically as emotionally. It was hard for them to mentally recover in little more than two weeks. That’s tough.”
On Saturday, Lacy, Parker and Durango’s Rogan Brown teamed up to take bronze in a relay. Hatanaka, who qualified along with Brittany Marrs and Lindsey Wilkinson, also took bronze in a relay with two other Rocky Mountain Division competitors. Hatanaka sat out Wednesday because of an ailing calf but returned Friday to finish 23rd the 5K classic.
The race of the week may have come from Waldron in Wednesday’s 15K freestyle, Callahan said. As the field of 58 pushed off the line during the mass start, the senior was tangled with a tight pack of competitors and fell to the snow. He was the last guy back on his skis and the last to leave the stadium.
“He could’ve given up, but he had the drive to get up and shake it off,” Callahan said. “He kept going, didn’t worry about the start and nearly passed the whole field.”
Waldron wound up finishing 13th. The result that may have been the difference in taking the Roger Weston Cup ” aka the Alaska Cup (because it has typically gone to a team from the last frontier) ” as the nation’s top high school team, Callahan said.
“I knew going in that with Noah and Scott being strong in their age classes and the others skiing well, we had a good chance,” Callahan said. “This is a big thing for the school and the [Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club]. It’s taken seriously by all the coaches. We all know who’s got a shot at it, and we all want it.”
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