Cross-country skiing

Laramie skier and member of the Wyoming High Altitude Training team, Gus Kaufman (center), classic skis earlier this season at a special training camp near West Yellowstone. The WHAT team is hosting a series of Nordic ski races starting today at the Happy Jack Recreation Area.

It’s been a stutter start to the Nordic ski season at Happy Jack Recreation Area. After an abrupt end to the grooming season last March due to COVID-19, Mother Nature delayed the resumption of grooming efforts this winter. Snow cover continues to lag, but groomers with the Medicine Bow Nordic Association, or MBNA, are on the trails finally.

At the annual MBNA meeting via Zoom in November, members voiced a desire for at least a few racing opportunities this season. Dan Lewis, MBNA assistant groomer and head coach for the Wyoming High Altitude Training (WHAT) team, took note of the interest.

Lewis’ WHAT works with athletes, ages 14 to 19, in a year-round program with the focus on Nordic skiing, but also incorporating other compatible sports such as running and cycling. He saw a desire for local races not only for his team, but for those who regularly ski at Happy Jack.

“Obviously this year has posed challenges to everyone in every aspect of life,” Lewis said. “With COVID-19 concerns, I decided to put together a virtual race series after the MBNA annual meeting. The series came together as an excuse for people to get out and ski, provide some goals throughout the season to the team, and have some fun this winter.”

The 2021 Whatever Virtual Race Series provides both serious and not-so-serious skiers a race opportunity every other week. Lewis explains entry is free, although donations are appreciated. The goal is to provide local events for the Happy Jack ski community.

“This year we are just trying to do whatever we can to train,” Lewis said. “The series started as being whatever course I wanted to run, but now has changed to being whatever trails have enough snow on them.”

The series kicks off today with the annual Pole Mountain Shuffle, following the same course as previous years to allow skiers to compare their times with past performances. Due to COVID-19 safety measures, the race has some unique rules and procedures.

First, there is no mass start; each competitor takes off on their own and even keeps their own time. The course will be marked with a start and finish line, and with directional markers. The course opens at 10 a.m. with skiers competing when they choose during the day.

Skiers garner points based on how they place with each race, but always earn at least one point for participating. Points are accrued for four of the five races, so if a skier opts out of one race, they are still in the running to see who gets the most points by the end of the series.

The second race, on Jan. 30, highlights hills — climbing up hills, that is. Lewis said specific hills around the trail system will be marked and times will be just for the hills.

“One of the hardest parts of cross-country skiing is going up hills, so I wanted to hit that early in the season,” Lewis said. “The next weekend is going to be a downhill day. This will be an interesting one, because we hardly ever see downhill cross-country ski races. Downhills are hard on cross-country skis, and we have some doozies at Happy Jack.”

While all races are freestyle mode, the fourth race, on Feb. 27, is a classic style race. The skate style is still allowed, but those doing classic receive double the series points.

“The classic race will be a fun course showing off the new re-routes around the trail system that were cut this summer,” Lewis said. “The spring final will depend on what snow we have at that time. Snow has been scarce this year so hopefully we are still skiing by that time.”

Registration is via the WHAT team website (www.whatteam.org). While entry is free, racers need to register and then also enter their times once they have completed the course.

“Bring a stopwatch and compete in the series,” Lewis said. “Or just ski the course and submit a completed course record just to participate. This is a low key event that can be a great introduction to racing. Or, if you want to go for the win, ski your heart out.”

Sidebar:

Rules and Procedures for the 2021 WHATever Virtual Nordic Ski Race Series

The WHAT team hosts four races this year and, along with the Pole Mountain Shuffle, will have five races in this series.

Times will be self-reported and on the honor system.

Four of the five races will count toward a racer’s series score.

Every race will be scored using the World Cup scoring system. Every racer receives at least one point per race. Ties will be added together and divided among the tied skiers.

Course maps will be published on Thursday before the race. Maps will be emailed to participants and posted on the event website.

Courses will be groomed by the MBNA staff the morning before the race. Courses open at 10 a.m.

Courses will be loosely marked. It will be the responsibility of the participant to know the course. No tracking or GPS devices are needed – it is the honor system. If a person feels the need to cheat, they will be escorted to the nearest outhouse.

Course marking will consist of a start line, finish line and arrows at trail intersections.

All races will be freestyle but double points will be available for those who choose to do the classic race in the classic style.

Because of the variable conditions of snow, races must be completed on the day of the race. If anyone wants to race the course on a different day they can do so for a half score of their placing time.

Racers assume all risk associated with cross-country skiing. This includes but is not limited to course deterioration, changing snow and weather conditions, and other skiers on the course.

There will not be any race representatives or first aid on site for these races.

Racers are required to follow all public health orders. Anyone found ignoring health orders or skiing while sick will be automatically disqualified from the entire series.

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