Saturday, May 18, 2024

Cascade High School Skiers Race at U.S. Ski Association’s Junior National Championships


LEAVENWORTH - The resort village of Lake Placid, New York, nestled in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains’ High Peaks Region and named after its eponymous lake, has played host to two Winter Olympic Games (1932 and 1980) and countless other international and national winter tournaments and matches including, earlier this month, the United States Ski Association’s 2024 Cross Country Junior National Ski Championships (JNs).


The week-long, four-event affair is the annual encounter among the nation’s best young skiers representing the ten Nordic ski racing divisions across the country from Alaska to Maine and Michigan to California. This year’s Championships consisted of more than 450 qualified racers competing, from March 11-16, in an individual distance race, a sprint tournament, a mass start distance race, and mixed gender relays.

Racing under the banner of the greater Pacific Northwest’s team (PNW), comprised of six race clubs from Washington and Oregon, were seven Cascade High School (CHS) students, all members of the Wenatchee Valley’s senior race outfit, the Plain Valley Nordic Team (PVNT): sophomores Tarin Warden, Quinten Koch, Olaf Saugen, Avery Houghton, and Micah Saugen; junior Caroline Menna; senior Isabel Menna. The seven were joined by their head and assistant coaches Pierre Niess and Gabe Norby and their teammates: Icicle River Middle School eighth-grader Kolston Breaux, homeschooled high school junior Silas D’Atre, and Wenatchee High School’s Kirsten Jarmin, Addie Loewen, and Kian Reid. (Cashmere’s Annika Peterson declined an invitation.)

Through a series of inter-divisional competitions, aptly called Junior National Qualifiers, that run from early December through late February, in the PNW at Mt. Bachelor, OR, Park City, UT, the Methow Valley, WA, and Mt. Spokane, WA, skiers qualified to race at Lake Placid.


“It’s an important opportunity for them to challenge themselves and learn from it, independently from their level of development,” asserted Niess, who continued: “Challenge, Learn, and Repeat. The team ‘mojo’ is still the same, whether you climb a hill for the first time or display your skills around the nation’s best skiers. It’s an adherence to that ‘mojo’ over time that allows for so many of our skiers to elevate to that level . . . I sure am proud to be witnessing it.”

Before they could display their skills, a nor’easter, one of the infamous, ferocious northern Atlantic based storms, greeted arrivals to the Adirondacks on the Saturday and Sunday preceding Monday’s race, the latter of which began amidst fierce winds, cold temperatures, and almost two feet of fresh snow. By the next fixture on Wednesday, afternoon temperatures, in the fickle upstate New York climate, had risen to almost sixty degrees, leading racers to don mere t-shirts under their race bibs. Thursday, at the affectionately known “Van Ho,” brought warm, blue-bird skies and a carnival-like atmosphere, with some teams training in regional wear (e.g., jeans and cowboy hats for the High Plains Division). Fog and tricky ski track conditions, that saw multiple crashes and delayed starts, dominated Friday’s races and Saturday’s relays.


By the time the JN closing awards and banquet took place Saturday evening, Caroline Menna had led CHS, PVNT and PNW in accolades with three All American honors, achieved by landing in the top ten in all three individual races. Following close behind were Koch who reached the top ten in Wednesday’s sprints and Friday’s classic distance race, and D’Atre who glided into Monday’s individual skate race decenary.


Reflecting on the week as a whole, Houghton recounted that while “most of [her] teammates have been to JNs, this was the first time for me. It was a lot to take in to travel across the country and line up against the very best juniors on a world class course in some challenging conditions. I loved it though and can’t wait for next year.”


Utah’s Soldier Hollow, the famed ski venue located just south of Park City, and a site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, will play host to the 2025 JNs. In between now and then, CHS/PVNT athletes will take a few weeks rest before taking in some spring skiing at Mt. Bachelor and beginning to train again in earnest.


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