UW Nordic Ski Teams Fare Well in Slippery Conditions on Opening Day of National Championships

woman cross-country skiing
Grace Erholtz, a member of the University of Wyoming women’s Nordic ski team, competes in the 7.5km freestyle event during the opening day competition at the U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y. Erholtz, of Baxter, Minn., ended up finished 16th to help the Cowgirls to a second-place finish overall behind winner St. Olaf University, of Northfield, Minn., which scored 15 points. (Daniel Colwell Photo)

The University of Wyoming women’s and men’s Nordic ski teams faced a slippery trail during the opening day competition at the U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA) Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y.

The opening race, a 7.5km freestyle event, was delayed a couple of hours due to the course being akin to an ice-skating rink in the morning. Despite the early-morning setback, the UW women’s Nordic ski team placed second overall out of 14 teams while the UW men’s team finished fifth out of 13 teams.

“The race was a 7.5km skate race on a ribbon of man-made snow. To ensure the integrity of the snow, the race organizers treated it with Urea last night. This firms the snow and allows it to freeze at higher temperatures,” UW co-head coach Rachel Watson explained. “However, it made for an ice-skating rink when we arrived at the venue just after 7 a.m. Coaches were attempting to go out and test wax, only to slide backwards the minute they tried to step onto the course. It took about two hours for the conditions to soften and this necessitated postponement of the start.”

When the women’s race finally started at 11 a.m., Annie Miller, from Minneapolis, Minn., was UW’s first starter, which meant that she had the iciest tracks, Watson says.

“Fortunately, she was able to navigate the corners tactfully, and skied to a very strong fourth-place finish, Watson says. “While fourth is always a hard place to be, we were really proud of Annie’s result.”

Her teammate, Sammy Veauthier, of Casper, finished fifth overall, after sitting in 12th place after the first lap.

“She paced the race perfectly,” Watson says of Veauthier.

Grace Erholtz, of Baxter, Minn., finished 16th overall after sitting in 32nd place after the first lap. Erholtz rounded out the scoring for the Cowgirls, who posted 25 points to finish second behind winner St. Olaf University, of Northfield, Minn., which scored 15 points.

Paul Smiths College, located in New York’s Adirondack State Park, was third with 30 points; the University of Wisconsin-Madison took fourth with 42 points; and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities rounded out the top five with 43 points.

On the men’s side of the competition, UW’s Kaj Taylor, of Palmer, Alaska, was first out of the gate for the Cowboys, and had to contend with slower women competitors who were still out on the course.

“Despite this, Kaj skied brilliantly. His first lap was practically perfect technically,” Watson says. “He got tired on the second lap, but he stayed gritty.”

Taylor ended up placing sixth overall. He was followed by teammates Austin Quillinan, of Laramie, who placed 29th; Jamie Peacock, from Jackson, was 30th; and Eliot Kramer, of St. Paul, Minn., finished 31st. 

The Cowboys scored 61 points on the day to place fifth overall. They finished behind winner Clarkson University, of Potsdam, N.Y., with 16 points; Paul Smiths College, 28 points; Western Colorado University, 33; and St. Olaf University had 42 points.

Five athletes from the UW/Shanghai University of Sport (SUS) team qualified for the USCSA Championships and all completed the first race. The top SUS man was Chenyu “Jayden” Jiang, in 56th place. On the women’s side, Lugi “Lucky” Chen led the way in 50th place.

“If anyone would have seen the SUS athletes skiing, they would not have believed they had learned to ski this year,” says Andrew Siegel, assistant coach of the SUS team.

“Most of the best skiers fell at least once today. The conditions were unprecedentedly difficult,” says UW co-head coach Christi Boggs. “Our kids were so gritty and several of them didn’t fall at all. They were impressive.”

The UW Nordic ski teams will compete in the women’s and men’s classic sprint races Wednesday before having a day off Thursday. Competition will resume Friday with the women’s and men’s 15km classic and wrap up with the women’s and men’s freestyle team sprint Saturday.

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