US Elite Racing: SuperTour Finals/Canadian Nationals End of Week Recap

by Michaela Keller-Miller
March 28, 2022

After kicking off with both skate and classic distance races last week (recap here), the combined US SuperTour Finals and Canadian Nationals in Whistler, British Columbia continued with three additional days of racing. This past Wednesday, skiers competed in a classic sprint. On Friday, club teammates paired up for a skate team sprint. The last race of the event and season was a 45-kilometer skate mass start for both the men and women. As was the case for the first two races, temperatures continued hovering at or above freezing and daily precipitation remained the trend.

To keep the sprint course from turning into deep slush on Wednesday, race organizers made the decision to salt the course to keep the trail as firm as possible. These efforts delayed the breakdown of the snow, allowing for impressive spring conditions throughout the day’s steady rainfall. The women competed on a 1.2-kilometer sprint loop and the men raced on a 1.4-kilometer loop, both starting with a climb before dropping back into the stadium for a flat and fast finish.

Finishing first in the men’s qualifier was Andreas Kirkeng, a Norwegian skiing for the University of Denver, in 3:09.82. Luke Jager of the University of Utah clocked the second-fastest qualifying time in 3:10.23. The third qualifying time of the day went to Logan Hanneman of Alaska Pacific University in 3:10.70. Reid Goble of BSF Pro qualified in the 34th position in 3:22.82, just missing out on heats.

In the women’s qualifier, Julia Kern of SMST2 continued her strong week, placing first in 3:11.14. Jessie Diggins, who raced both the skate and classic distance races earlier in the week, elected not to race the sprint nor the remaining events of the week, instead opting for a much needed rest. Dahria Beatty, a Canadian out of the Whitehorse Ski Club, finished second in 3:17.72. Alayna Sonnesyn of SMST2 placed third in an impressively deep field, clocking in at 3:18.68. Margie Freed and Michaela Keller-Miller of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project placed 33rd and 34th overall in 3:35.67 and 3:35.87, respectively. As four junior skiers opted to race the junior heats, both Freed and Keller-Miller advanced to the open women’s quarterfinals. Abby Jarzin of the University of Utah was close behind, placing 35th in 3:36.29.

Moving easily through to the men’s final were Kirkeng and Jager, each winning both their quarterfinal and semifinal heats. Joining them in the final were Canadians Antoine Cyr, Xavier McKeever, and Graham Ritchie, as well as University of Colorado skier Magnus Boee and BSF Pro skier Logan Diekmann. Due to an obstruction in the first semifinal, both Diekmann and Boee, placing fourth and fifth, advanced to the final, resulting in an unconventional seven men in the final heat.

The pace was hot off the line in the final, as Jager led the field heading up the initial ascent. Cyr quickly overtook Jager, charging up the remainder of the climb as the two descended the technical downhill corner side by side. The field mostly regrouped as they dropped back into the stadium, where McKeever began a strong finishing surge. Matching McKeever’s push were Cyr and Jager, all three heading into the homestretch neck in neck. Ultimately, McKeever’s kick proved to be lethal, as he crossed in the line first in 3:19.72. Cyr held on for second, overtaking Jager at the line to finish in 3:21.10. Jager finished the day as the top American, placing third overall in 3:21.71.

McKeever sprinting to a classic sprint title. (Credit: Doug Stephen/VR45 Photography)

The women’s heats proved to be equally exciting, as the American skiers battled with their Northern neighbors. As expected, Kern and Beatty advanced to the final, winning their respective quarterfinal and semifinal heats. Putting up a strong fight in her quarterfinal, Freed placed fourth, less than two seconds from moving through to the semifinals. Keller-Miller finished fifth in her quarterfinal, failing to advance to the semifinals. After moving on to the semifinal heats, Sonnesyn placed third in the second semifinal and was unable to advance in a lucky loser position.

The final was stacked with Canadians Beatty and Laurence Dumais, as well as Green Racing Project skier Caitlin Patterson, University of Utah athletes Novie McCabe and Sydney Palmer-Leger, and Kern. Kern was a force to be reckoned with from start to finish, forming an early gap and never looking back. Taking the win, Kern crossed the line several seconds ahead of the next finisher in 3:30.32. Patterson led the remaining skiers, pushing the pace and skiing with finesse through the technical descents. Never letting up, Patterson fought to the line, finishing in second. Crossing the line as the top Canadian woman, Beatty finished in third in 3:36.48. Palmer-Leger was fourth in 3:37.22, McCabe placed fifth in 3:37.45, and Dumais was sixth in 3:51.89.

Kern congratulating Beatty after her sprint win. (Credit: Doug Stephen/VR45 Photography)
Women’s classic sprint podium. (Credit: Doug Stephen/VR45 Photography)

After a one-day break, where skiers enjoyed rest and surprise sunshine, athletes reconvened on Friday for a unique team sprint event. The morning brought a 700-meter skate qualifier, in which teams vied for one of 15 spots in the afternoon’s Open A final. Club athletes competed in pairs, and the combined time of each athlete’s qualifier was used to determine whether the team had earned one of the 15 positions in the A final. Moving through for the women were both SMST2 teams, including the pair of Sonnesyn and Kern. The second SMST2 team was composed of Evelina Sutro and Katharine Ogden. Also moving through were Canadians Sonjaa Schmidt and Beatty, competing for the Whitehorse Ski Club. Two University of Utah teams moved through: the first with Palmer-Leger and Karianne Dengerud and the second with McCabe and Julia Richter. Two Green Racing Project teams advanced: the first with Patterson and Alex Lawson and the second with Annika Landis and Freed.

Sonnesyn reports on the day’s conditions, “The conditions on Friday (and all week long) were DYNAMIC! They were constantly changing and you never really knew what you were going to get. Friday's qualifier presented us with rock hard ice to ski on, making the 750 meter course fly by before you even realized you were racing. Five hours later when we were racing the heats, it was a different story. So many skiers had raced and the weather was warm enough that the hard-packed snow broke and we were skiing in ankle deep mush on the hills and across the flats, while the downhill was rutted with a mix of ice and slush.”

The race format for the A final involved each skier racing four legs of the 700-meter course, tagging off to their partner after each lap. The women’s final remained close for much of the race, as the race for the win whittled down to five teams. These included the SMST2 duo of Sonnesyn and Kern, Canadians Schmidt and Beatty, University of Utah teammates Palmer-Leger and Dengerud, the GRP duo of Patterson and Lawson, and the second Utah team of McCabe and Richter. Ultimately pulling away in the final laps of the race, Sonnesyn and Kern skied away with the title in 12:22.16. In an exciting finish, Canadians Schmidt and Beatty finished second in 12:34.15, less than one second ahead of Palmer-Leger and Dengerud. The GRP team of Patterson and Lawson ended the day in fourth in 12:40.42 and McCabe and Richter finished in fifth in 12:44.51. Freed, teaming up with Landis for the GRP, placed seventh overall in 13:04.22. Sarah Goble of SVSEF Gold paired up with her teammate Katie Feldman to finish 12th in 13:36.95.

Reflecting on Kern’s and her national title, Sonnesyn says, “It didn't really feel like we were racing for a national title on Friday, it more so felt like we were just there to ski fast and have fun. The title was a pleasant surprise. After training and racing with Julia for many years now, we've done countless speeds, strength sessions, interval workouts, I think we both knew what we were capable of on Friday, we just needed to execute it well.”

Sonnesyn adds, “I've raced very few team sprints, let alone something of this format. I wasn't sure how I felt about it going into the day but ended up really enjoying the race. It kept everyone on their toes with so many variables, so although I felt confident throughout the day I also knew the race wasn't over until it was over and that anything could happen.”

Sonnesyn leading the charge in the Team Sprint Final. (Credit: Doug Stephen/VR45 Photography)
The women’s team sprint podium. (Credit: Doug Stephen/VR45 Photography)

In the men’s team sprint, the University of Utah qualified two teams for the men’s final: the first with Noel Keeffe and Jager, the second with Brian Bushey and Bjorn Riksaasen. APU qualified a team of Scott Patterson and Hanneman. Also of note, Northern Michigan University qualified a team for the A final with Kjetil Baanerud and Kristoffer Karsrud. The men’s final was a closely contested battle throughout. Many teams, including APU’s team of Patterson and Hanneman, remained in the mix early on, waiting to move to the front until later in the race when their endurance began to kick in. Consistently at the front was the Utah team of Keeffe and Jager.

By the final leg of the eight-lap race, the APU duo had gained a slight edge, followed tightly by the rest of the field. Rounding the final bend into the homestretch, Jager of the Utah team passed Hanneman on the inside, resulting in a slight edge heading into the final hundred meters. Fighting hard to regain the lead, Hanneman was hot on Jager’s tail. Jager’s finishing kick carried his team to victory, resulting in a win for both himself and Keefe in 11:15.32. The duo of Hanneman and Patterson held on for second, crossing the line in 11:16.71. The NMU team of Baanerud and Karsrud earned third place in the final, clocking in at 11:16.77. The second University of Utah team of Bushey and Riksaasen finished fourth in 11:17.50.

Jager skiing to a team sprint victory alongside teammate Noel Keefe. (Credit: Doug Stephen/VR45 Photography)

Sunday brought the final day of racing at this year’s 2022 US SuperTour Finals and Canadian Nationals, as both the men and women raced a 45-kilometer skate mass start. Sunday’s course conditions became increasingly soft and slushy as the day progressed, as rain was paired with above-freezing temperatures.

Rosie Frankowski of APU said, “The conditions were like skiing through a torrential downpour which is how it was most of the day here. The actual snow held up surprisingly well on most uphills and flats although the downhills were actually horrific. The organizers did a good job considering Mother Nature delivered them a huge challenge with the amount of rain we’ve had here this week. I’ve felt like I am skiing in Prince William Sound in Alaska.”

The men began the day with an early 8:30am start. Skiers completed six laps of a 7.5-kilometer loop, using the classic course from earlier in the week and a portion of the skate course. Adam Martin of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project and winner of the classic distance race earlier in the week weighed in on the course, “There were some really challenging climbs but also some really fast, flat sections so kind of a combination of some challenging parts and also lots of rest.”

Starting at a brisk pace, the men formed a large pack off the line. At the 15-kilometer mark, the top 25 men were all within 10 seconds. The race began to break open on the third lap, as the lead pack dwindled down to about 10 skiers. Consistently at the front and leading the charge were Canadians Philippe Boucher and Remi Drolet, and Scott Patterson. Also in the mix were Jager, Martin, BSF Pro skier Finn O’Connell, and Canadians Russell Kennedy, Antoine Cyr, and Graham Ritchie.

By the final lap, Boucher had fallen slightly off the pace, leaving the race down to a group of eight. The finish turned into a sprint, as no one in the lead pack had been able to break away in the first 44 kilometers. Ritchie was able to create separation on the homestretch, crossing the line in first in 1:40:32.6. Showing he is as much a distance skier as a sprinter, Jager skied to second place in a time of 1:40:39.3. Cyr rounded out the podium in 1:40:40.4. Patterson, after finishing eighth in the men’s 30-kilometer freestyle race at the 2022 Olympic Games, placed fifth in 1:40:42.1. Martin was right behind, finishing in sixth place in a time of 1:40:45.1. Reid Goble placed 18th in 1:43:33.8.

Martin reflects on his final race as a professional skier, “I was really excited because it was my last ski race of my career. I thought it started very fast, so I was pushing myself from the start to keep up. I ended up breaking a pole, but I got a replacement quickly and it didn’t end up costing me much time. And then at the end, I was happy to come in partway through that lead group.”

Following the end of the men’s race, the women took to the course. Frankowski details the challenges of end-of-season racing and keeping a positive mindset prior to the 45-kilometer race, “I felt terrible most of the week here in Whistler, although waking up on race day morning, I finally felt like myself a bit more. I raced the Norwegian Birkie last weekend, then had a travel day from hell immediately after so when I arrived in Whistler earlier this week, I was really jet lagged, terribly sore and really tired. I tried to keep a positive attitude and realize I will start to feel better as the week progressed, but I spent the first half of the week thinking I must have COVID (although I was testing negative on tests) or am just totally burnt out. Thanks to my patient APU teammates they helped turn my attitude around. Regardless, I felt that this race was going to be a total wildcard and either great or maybe bad.”

Similarly to the men’s race, the women formed a pack off the line and a group of about 10 skiers were within 10 seconds after the first lap. The pack shrank to six women on the second lap, as Caitlin Patterson, Frankowski, Kern, University of Utah skiers Sophia Laukli and Palmer-Leger, and Canadian Cendrine Browne traded leads and pushed the pace. By the end of the fifth lap, the five Americans were within seconds, forming a 10 second lead over Browne.

Throughout the sixth and final lap, Kern began to pull away from the field, with Patterson attempting to match Kern’s surge. Never letting up, Kern continued opening her lead, finishing first in 1:58:55.6 and earning her fourth NorAm title of the week. Patterson, in the final race of her impressive professional ski career, which included two Olympic appearances, crossed the line in second in 1:59:29.6. Laukli finished third in 1:59:56.5 and Palmer-Leger was fourth in 2:00:04.3. Frankowski skied a strong last lap to finish fifth in 2:00:08.4. Freed finished 11th in 2:07:46.6 and Sonnesyn ended the day in 13th in 2:09:28.4.

Frankowski provides further insight into the 45-kilometer race, “I was actually pretty surprised at how controlled the pace was for most of the race. In the last month, I’ve raced the American Birkie, Holmenkollen World Cup, the Norwegian Birkie and now this marathon. I would say the pace resembled the American Birkie a bit more than the European races. I really struggled on most of the downhills so had to keep doing solo surges to get back on the pack after each one. I tried to get in front on the long uphill section for the middle laps and push the pace, but in all honesty, I was feeling pretty tired myself. By the last lap, I just didn’t have it to go with Julia and then Caitlin when they separated themselves and then with my struggles on the downhill section, I ultimately finished 5th. It was really fun to do a final race with Caitlin P. after all of the years we’ve raced together, and I was impressed by Julia who is always a crusher, and the Utah girls, Sophia and Sydney, skied super well so it was a fun pack to be in.”

With the culmination of racing in Whistler, skiers reflect on a unique season of racing. Frankowski, who won the overall SuperTour distance title for the season, processes her season, “This season was by far my most challenging of my ski career with having Olympic qualification pressure and then disappointment, learning to be on the road with teammates and traveling during COVID, working remotely at my Anchorage job through many time changes, and dealing with some personal life anxieties throughout. I am incredibly proud of challenging myself through the last four months, even when there were quite a few times I wanted to throw in the towel and fly home. I feel that I can’t really fully process the season until I am back in Alaska with my family and friends, but I am more ready than ever for a big break, some changes and some new paths to follow.”

As these races mark Martin’s retirement from professional ski racing, Martin shares a few words on his ski career, “This season’s been a dream. I’ve accomplished a ton of my goals that I wasn’t sure were possible or not. I’ve really enjoyed my time in Craftsbury. And I have nothing but fond memories from my time at NMU.” Also announcing that this season was their last were Katharine Ogden, Ian Torchia, Caitlin Patterson, and Akeo Maifeld-Carucci of the Green Racing Project. Notably absent from this week’s Spring Nationals was BSF Pro’s Hannah Rudd, who is currently in Bozeman recovering from wrist surgery after suffering a ruptured tendon and fracture in the final race at OPA Cup Finals in Italy. Also absent was Team Birkie’s Zak Ketterson, who remained in Europe following World Cup racing.

This year’s ski season marked the return of domestic SuperTour racing after a one-year pandemic-related hiatus. With the end of another Olympic cycle, the US SuperTour Finals in Whistler were the last of many American skiers’ racing careers. Those not retiring will likely enjoy a few weeks of rest and recovery before the training season begins fully taking off in May.

About the author...

Michaela Keller-Miller, a graduate of Wayzata High School and the University of Alaska Anchorage, skis for the Green Racing Project based out of Craftsbury, Vermont. Her ideal day would probably involve a long trail run followed by a stack of pancakes with maple syrup and a chai latte.