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Sailors Nordic boys team ranked No. 1 in Colorado

The Steamboat Springs High School Nordic ski team practices the tight turn on its home course at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center ahead of a home classic race Saturday, Feb. 15.
Shelby Reardon

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On Saturday, Feb. 8, Wyatt Mortenson woke up at 4 a.m. While his dad drove from his Hayden residence to Steamboat Springs, Mortenson got in a little more sleep. He then boarded a bus, along with his Sailors Nordic skier teammates, where the athletes sat for more than three hours en route to Aspen. When Mortenson walked off the bus, he had little time to warm up before the skate race started.

His teammate, Steamboat Springs High School junior Sumner Cotton, is typically the faster Steamboat skier, so in the staggered start, Cotton was one of the first to take off.

With little sleep and travel weighing them down, Cotton and Mortenson stayed strong on the hilly, technical course. Mortenson nearly made the podium but finished 0.02 seconds shy in fourth place. Twenty seconds behind him was Cotton, who crossed the line in 16:56.5, good for sixth. 

With the two regularly finishing at the top of the pack, they have put the Steamboat Nordic team in the No. 1 overall spot in the state. Head coach Jesse Wilkins said this is surely the only time the Sailor boys have done so.

Cotton is the top skier in the state of Colorado in both disciplines. He used to ski with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club but opted to race with the high school team this year in addition to some FIS — International Ski Federation — races individually to qualify him for Junior Nationals.

“It was kind of rough for our team. None of us had the opportunity to ski the course. We just had to go out there and go for it,” Mortenson said. “That cost us a little bit on the steep downhill turns because we weren’t able to prep for them and know what was going on. … Overall, it was great.”

Mortenson is ranked No. 2 in the state in skate skiing. He’s also ranked No. 4 among all classic skiers. If he stays in the top five, he’ll earn All-State honors. 

“We’ve worked a lot on form. I feel like that’s very key considering the fact that our team is mainly composed of runners,” Mortenson said. “We already have the endurance and the lung capacity that it takes to ski. We just need to build the form and the muscle that skiing requires.”

The Sailor boys are ranked third in classic skiing and first in skate skiing. Middle Park is second in both disciplines as well as overall, and Wilkins knew that Saturday. The goal was to win over as many Middle Park skiers as possible.

Going in, Wilkins knew his team held a small lead over Middle Park in the skate skiing standings. So, when a Middle Park skier was ahead of one of his athletes, he would time how far back the Sailor was and relay that information to them as they passed.

Yelling off splits isn’t something Wilkins typically does, but he started when the team realized how close their margin was over Middle Park.

“It does seem to work for most of them,” Wilkins said. “Sumner and Wyatt, we can’t get a good split time off of. Sometimes, there’s not even somebody starting in front of them that we can gauge their splits off of.”

However, for the third through seventh skiers, it works wonders. Wilkins will likely do the same thing again this weekend when the team wraps up the regular season with a classic race at home Saturday, Feb. 15, starting at 11 a.m. In the classic standings, the Sailors are just 6 points behind Middle Park and 11 behind Aspen in first place.

“Both of those gaps are feasible in classic, and we should be able to maintain our overall if everyone does what they need to do,” Wilkins said. 

The girls have long been the stronger team for the Steamboat skiers but haven’t been able to match the boys’ success. With one classic race left in the season, the Sailor girls are ranked No. 4 in skate, No. 8 in classic and No. 5 overall.

Maggi Congdon is the highest ranked girl for Steamboat, sitting in 15th among skate skiers and 25th in the classic standings. She, along with six other Sailor girls, have already qualified for state in at least one discipline. Congdon has qualified in both. 

“Maggi’s having the best year ever,” Wilkins said. “Actually, most of the girls that are skiing this year are having their best years. I’d say everybody is.”

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.


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