Young Nordic skiers help region, state win

STOWE/RIPTON — Athletes from Ripton’s Frost Mountain Nordic Club recently helped a regional team win a national competition in Stowe and a Vermont team win a regional competition on the club’s home course in Ripton.
Cornwall’s Sophie Hodges earlier had qualified for Team New England through the highly competitive Eastern Cup series, and this past weekend competed at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe for Team New England as it won the Alaska Cup against two teams from the Rocky Mountains and one each from Alaska and the Midwest.
Hodges raced in four under-16 events for Team New England, which was coached by Frost Mountain head coach Cam MacKugler.
She finished 43rd in the five-kilometer classic race, 15th in the classic sprint, 22nd in the freestyle 5K, and seventh in the three-by-3K freestyle relay.
Also competing for Team New England was Middlebury College U-20 racer Kelsey Phinney, who placed sixth in the5K classic, third in the classic sprint, sixth in the freestyle 5K, and first in the 3x3K freestyle relay.
MacKugler said Team New England scored the most points in each of the four events in claiming the Alaska Cup; top 20 finishers score points, with up to six finishers per team scoring.
He was pleased with Hodges’ first-time effort on a national stage, and noted her point-scoring in the classic sprint.
“Hodges skied like a seasoned veteran, despite it being only her first time qualifying for this elite event,” he said. “She navigated the high-pressure situations with ease.”
MacKugler also pointed to Vermont’s strength on the regional team, and noted internationally the same weekend Team New England alum Sophie Caldwell of Peru was third in a World Cup race in Finland in which teammate Kikkan Randall took first.
“At the end of the event the realization was clear, the United States is producing some of the top skiers in the world, and the best ski racers in the country are in New England,” he said.
Also between March 7 and 9, Frost Mountain hosted the New England J-2, or age 16 and under, championships at the Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton. Competing for the winning Vermont team of 20 boys and 20 girls were Nick Wilkerson of Middlebury and Haven Tate of Bridport. They defeated 40-person teams from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, New York and the Great Lakes District.
On March 7, Wilkerson took 22nd in the 5K freestyle.
On March 8, Wilkerson took 14th and Tate finished 78th in the 5K classic, and in a 1.5K freestyle sprint Wilkerson finished 11th and Tate 30th.
On March 9, both competed on 4x3K relay squads. Tate’s team took eighth, and Wilkerson’s group was 16th.
MacKugler said the event was a success on and off the trails.
“One of our goals at Frost Mountain is to build the skiing culture of Addison County, and through events like this we can annually bring in thousands of consumers into our area shops, hotels and restaurants, as well as solidify Rikert Nordic Center as one of the best skiing destinations in the Northeast,” he said.
Looking at both events and noting a recent article that Vermont produces the highest number of U.S. Winter Olympians per capita, MacKugler concluded the future is bright.
“Through last week’s two events the success of Vermont’s development pipeline was abundantly clear,” he said. “American skiers are now the best in the world. New England is the best region in America. And Vermont is the fastest state in New England.”

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