Steamboat skiers bring the heat in Crested Butte cross country races |

Steamboat skiers bring the heat in Crested Butte cross country races

The skiers taking part in the Junior National Qualifier in Crested Butte last weekend were greeted by the cool mountain air, but not even that could keep several red-hot Steamboat Springs Nordic skiers from blistering performances.

“The U.S. junior men have really been shining this past year. They are definitely way faster than they have been in the past,” Steamboat Nordic skier Noel Keeffe said. “The younger generations are just getting faster and faster, and it seems like American skiing is on the way up.”

On Saturday, Keeffe set the standard in the sprint race by posting the fastest qualifying time and then winning in his quarterfinal, semifinal and final heats en route to placing first in the U20 boys division.

“The season has been going really well. We just had nationals, and it was fun,” Keeffe said. “It was in Alaska and that was a really cool place to go and ski. The atmosphere there is different than the one you find down here in Colorado.”

The finish highlighted a strong showing in the classic sprint event, where the top-30 skiers in each age division are seeded into groups of six skiers for 1.5-kilometer  quarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds. The top two finishers in each heat move on to the next round.

Keeffe was the top Steamboat skier in his  group, but not the only skier bringing home top results. Wyatt Gebhardt placed second, Sven Tate was fifth and Jimmy Colfer was seventh overall.

On the women’s side, Waverly Gebhardt swept through the heats en route to winning the U18 girls division. Her teammate Sadie Cotton was fourth, and Dasha Kuznetsova won the “B” final to earn seventh place. In the U16 boys final, Steamboat’s Wally Magill skied to second, and Sumner Cotton was third.

Steamboat also excelled in the younger age classes where a promising group of U10, U12 and U14 skiers seem primed to push out town to the top of the of the sport.

“Some of those athletes were on the podium for the first time,” coach Brian Tate said. “That was really impressive and emotional for me, just to see young kids training hard and gaining the achievements for their efforts. It was good to see them up there.”

Steamboat’s Griff Rillos placed seventh in the U14 division for the boys, and Ellery Hodges, who had her best finish of the season, took fourth for the U14 girls. Her teammate Grace Zanni  placed seventh in the same division,

Steamboat athletes also found success in the U12 divisions, where Grey Barbier took second, and Henry Magill was seventh in the boys race. Nikita Andre placed fourth, Grace Olexa was sixth, Alena Rossi was eighth and Norah Graham was 10th in the U12 girls division.

On Sunday the racers took part in a mass-start freestyle race, where the racers left the starting line with the other racers in their age group and gender.

Wyatt Gebhardt made a decisive move on the 5-kilometer course’s biggest climb to leave the field behind and ski to victory. He was followed by Colfer in second and Keeffe in sixth. Steamboat’s Kieran Hahn also put in a solid effort, taking ninth place in the race.

Waverly Gebhardt highlighted the girls finishes once again, and wrapped up a perfect weekend by picking up her second win in the 5-kilometer mass-start race.

She also took advantage of the course’s most difficult climb to separate from the pack en route to the victory. Her teammate Kuznetsova also found the podium with a third-place finish.

Wally Magill raced to a second in the boys U14 race, but was out-paced by Durango’s Logan Moore, who took the win.

After being involved in a pileup during the start and leaving the stadium in last place, Sidney Barbier weaved through the pack to finish eighth in the U16 girls division. Zanni earned her first podium finish of the season, placing third in the girls U14 race, which covered 3-kilometers. Hodges was close behind in forth, and Heidi Andre raced to sixth place.

In the U14 boys race, Griff Rillos led the pack but fell to third place near the finish line of the 3-kilometer course. However, it was his first podium finish ever.

Grey Barbier placed second in the U12 race with teammate Henry Magill finishing sixth on the 3-kilometer course.  In the U12 girls race, Andre raced to a second-place finish, Olexa took sixth place and Rossi grabbed eighth.

Tristan Thrasher took the top podium position in the boys U10 race, by the length of a ski. His teammate Peter Cooper raced to eighth. Shea Rossi earned her first podium of the season by finishing third in the girls U10 race.

The Steamboat skiers have four more Junior National qualifiers left this season, and Tate said the team is about halfway through the ski season.

“As a team, and as a whole, from our youngest to our oldest skiers, we had consistent performances and good ones,” Tate said. “We are close to the halfway point, but its still early in the season.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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