Nordic Junior Nationals qualifier brings 300+ next-gen skiers to Gold Run Nordic this weekend | SummitDaily.com

Nordic Junior Nationals qualifier brings 300+ next-gen skiers to Gold Run Nordic this weekend

Take it from coach: the first five minutes are going to be miserable.

Today and tomorrow, more than 300 Nordic athletes from regional ski clubs and college programs converge on Gold Run Nordic Center for a Nordic Junior Nationals qualifier, and you'd better believe race officials want the course to meet expectations.

It all begins with that first kilometer and a half, said Olof Hedberg, head coach for Summit Nordic Ski Club and race director for the qualifier.

"The start, by far, is the hardest part of this course," Hedberg said. "You will see quite early that it's a shake-out. After the first K and a half — the first mile or so — it becomes a high-speed course, and if you're one of those athletes who can manage that first stretch you will be rewarded. But you have to push that first K and a half."

It's the first time in at least four years that Summit County has hosted such a high-level event, with competitors coming from Switzerland, Norway, Sweden and across the Colorado region. Racing begins daily at 9 a.m. with U-18 and collegiate athletes, followed by ski club athletes in age classes. Events wrap up around noon both days. All of the lower race trails will be closed to the public this weekend, but don't worry, Silver Star and all upper trails (Peabody Placer, Hoodoo Voodoo and Peabody Loop) will be open. Just know that things will be busy with more than 300 racers, plus coaches and parents.

Hedberg's athletes know what's in store, and luckily, they've had a week or two to get familiar with that first nasty stretch. The course is shared by competitors on both days of racing, beginning today with a 10K freestyle individual race for U-18 and collegiate athletes, followed tomorrow with a 5K classic mass-start race for the same age groups. The youngest competitors in the U-8 and U-10 divisions will race on a shortened 1K course today and 1.3K course tomorrow.

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Kyle Tayman, a 17-year-old veteran of SNSC, is competing in his first major U-18 freestyle and classic races of the season this weekend, and his strategy is built around the lung-burning climb right out of the gate.

"The entire first kilometer and a half is straight uphill," said Tayman, a senior who started competing with the Summit High School Nordic team as a freshman before moving to SNSC his sophomore year. "If I can stay with everyone for that, I'll be doing good. … We've been skiing the course a lot and I have a really good idea of where to push, what to look for, and it's great to start a season with that."

McCrerey homecoming

Tayman and fellow youth skiers with SNSC, Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club are joined by about 100 collegiate athletes from seven schools across the region, including major players like University of New Mexico, University of Utah, University of Colorado-Boulder and Denver University, the defending NCAA Nordic and alpine champions.

Summit County native Taeler McCrerey joins the DU squad at Gold Run this weekend, where she'll make her first appearance on hometown snow since leaving SNSC to join DU as a freshman. At the 2016 National Championships, she took sixth overall to give her team much-needed points on a tough Steamboat Springs course.

"It's fun to go back and race on familiar trails with the club that I grew up skiing with," McCrerey said of returning for her first local Nordic races in two seasons. "It's interesting to see how the club has developed since I left. They've done some pretty hard work, so it'll be fun to race with them."

McCrerey and three fellow DU skiers are racing on the same course as the youth athletes, but they won't be competing head-to-head for podium finishes. While club athletes are focused on earning a spot at 2017 Nordic Junior Nationals in Lake Placid — Tayman knows that a top-12 finish this weekend qualifies him for Nationals from March 3-11 — the collegiate skiers are more concerned with fine-tuning the techniques they've worked on all summer and fall.

For McCrerey, this means "getting my race legs back under me," she says. Like Hedberg and Tayman, she realizes that first stretch will be tough, with hardly any rest in the whip-fast middle section and final two-minute climb back to the finish line. There's hardly any time for rest on a flat-and-fast course like Gold Run, she says, remembering back to her last time competing there in high school races three or four years ago.

"I'm not ready yet (for max effort), but every race I do gets me closer to that," said McCrerey, who has competed twice already this season while the DU team was training in British Columbia during the school's recent holiday break. "Right now my goals are just to keep working on technique — the technique I've been working on all fall — and if I can maintain that through the whole race it will come together later in the season."

The big guns

McCrerey's strategy — fast, furious and fundamental wins the race — is key for anyone who hopes to finish well this weekend, Hedberg said, from elite collegiate athletes to U-10 hopefuls.

"It is going to be high-tempo from the start, with that brutal beginning," Hedberg said. "Then, you will get a real tough battle in the last two minutes. That's when you'll see how much steam they have left. The first five minutes and last two minutes are the toughest."

For Hedberg, the chance to host a Junior National qualifier is not only good for his club, but good for the entire Summit Nordic scene. A few weeks ago he was worried about snowfall, but by now, Nordic center crews have been working nonstop to keep the route clear of wind-blown snow. Chances are they were out there from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. this morning getting things ready for the 9 a.m. start.

"I want to give a big 'thank you' to the Summit County community," Hedberg said. "It's amazing to see our sponsors come together to make this happen. Without the Nordic community here, it wouldn't happen. This is so great for the kids, and as a coach it truly warms my heart to see this happening in Summit."

Nordic Junior Nationals qualifier at Gold Run

What: A series of two Nordic races for youth athletes eyeing a spot at 2017 Nordic Junior Nationals, including a 10K freestyle race and 5K mass-start race

When: Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17-18

Where: Gold Run Nordic Center, 200 Clubhouse Drive in Breckenridge

Cost: Free for spectators

The event is free and open to spectators. Limited trails will be open to the public, and all skiers must respect the racers and racecourses. For more information on the event, see the Summit Nordic Ski Club website at summitnordic-skiclub.squarespace.com.