Although this year’s ski season may be coming to a close, racing on the national scene is just starting to heat up. The nordic skiing Junior National Championship races will be held this week in Soldier Hollow, Utah, on the tails of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Vermonters make up more than half of the 2018 New England team, and many of them live and train in the Burlington area.
Each year, the most talented high school skiers compete throughout the winter for a chance to race at the Junior National Championships. To qualify, athletes must compete in eight races that are held over four weekends through the season. Skiers score points based on their performances each race. At the end of the season, the skiers with the highest scoring points in their best 3-4 races are selected for the teams.
“It’s super competitive,” says Ali Priganc, a sophomore a Mount Mansfield Union High School. “I had to train really hard and race some really fast people to [qualify].”
Magda Lelito, a sophomore at Milton High School, agrees. “You need to be giving it your all. Every practice you need to be thinking, ‘How can I raise the bar? How can I get an edge on the competition?’”
Priganc and Lelito get their edge by training year round with Mansfield Nordic Club in Jericho, Vermont. Practices are a combination of skiing, strength, running, and roller skiing. Skiers train 400-600 hours a year, with the most hours accumulated in the summer. “My favorite workouts are the uphill double pole tests” says Lelito, referring to the sessions in which athletes climb a series of hills on roller skis using only their poles to propel them. “They’re very challenging but also really fun.”
Mansfield Nordic Club is a nordic ski organization that provides coaching and training groups for all ages and abilities. It is sponsored in part by Skirack, and serves athletes in the Burlington area, from St Albans to Waterbury. There are several such ski clubs and academies throughout Vermont, each dedicated to developing the next generation of world class ski racers. In addition to Mansfield Nordic Club, Craftsbury Nordic in Craftsbury, Frost Mountain Nordic in Ripton, Green Mountain Valley School in Waitsfield, and Stratton Mountain School in Stratton are sending skiers to Nationals.
For many athletes, these races are an opportunity to show the country what they can do. “All of the best skiers are going to be there, all of the coaches will be watching,” explains Aidan Burt, a freshman at Mount Mansfield Union High School and skier for Mansfield Nordic Club. “It’s a chance to make a name for yourself.”
Burt’s name is already well known in the Vermont nordic community. This season, he finished on the podium for both classic and skate events in the Vermont High School State Championships, and anchored MMU’s relay team on both days, leading them to a Division I State title. However, Burt’s goals extend beyond high school sports. “To get a top ten in a Junior National Race…that would be awesome.”
Ali Priganc also raced for Mount Mansfield Union High school this season, and was a critical part of the girl’s Division I State Championship team. “I work just as hard whether I am skiing for high school or on Eastern Cups,” she explains, “but the mindset is different. When I race for high school I do it for my team. When I race in Utah I will do it for myself.”
New England skiers arrived in Soldier Hollow on Saturday to prepare for races this week. The events will start off on Tuesday, March 6 with a skate sprint event, followed by a distance classic interval start on Wednesday, and a distance skate mass start on Friday. The week finishes with a classic team relay on Saturday. Fans can stream events live at usskiandsnowboard.org or on Facebook at US Ski and Snowboard’s page. Results will be posted on summittiming.com.
Skirack is a proud sponsor of the Mansfield Nordic Club. To follow the Juniors of MNC, check out their blog here: mansfieldnordic.org/category/junior-blog
Sara Falconer is an assistant coach to the Mansfield Nordic Club Junior team. She works at Skirack in the Nordic Skiing and Running departments.
Read Sara's bio on the Skirack website: skirack.com/blog/meet-sara-falconer