Over the weekend of February 7-8, the Notre Dame Nordic Ski team traveled to Traverse City, MI to compete in the 38th Annual North American VASA ski race. The Vasa Trail is Michigan’s premier ski course and has challenged skiers for decades. Competitors travel from near and far to compete in this event, and many make a tradition of it. The event consisted of several different races of varying techniques, ranging from 6k to 50k in length. The majority of the team competed in 27k (16.8 mi) races: Kevin Bednar (senior), Jenny Coble (sophomore), and Ellen Gleadow (sophomore) with the Classic technique and Mara Stolee (senior), Caroline Corsones (sophomore), and Joe Kuhns (freshman) with the Skate technique. Lily McGill (sophomore) made her ski-racing debut in the Vasa’s 12k Classic race.
Races began early Saturday morning, with the 50k racers taking off at 8:00am. Race starts were staggered throughout the morning in order to keep the trail in good condition and prevent congestion. Kevin Bednar led off the team in the 27k Classic race, fighting bitter sub-zero temperatures and bone-chilling winds. After sticking with the lead pack for the first half of the race, Bednar and one other skier broke free and faced off for the rest of the race. After over 16 miles of exchanging the lead, the tension culminated in a sprint finish, in which Bednar finished just one second behind the leader with a time of 1:43:13. The women’s team also had a number of notable finishes, with Gleadow and Coble finishing second and third in their age group for the 27k Classic race with times of 2:55:38 and 3:39:40, respectively. Mara Stolee finished third in her age group for the 27k Skate race with a time of 2:30:04.
Notre Dame’s Nordic Ski team is just in its third year of existence at the university, and the team’s seniors look forward to its promising future. Mara Stolee commented on the club’s progress saying, “Nordic skiing tends to be a sport most people have to grow up with to understand, so it can be hard to attract members and grow the club. However, we’ve seen a lot of growth, especially in this last year. We have some really outstanding leadership coming from the underclassmen, and I am excited to see them take ownership of the club after Kevin and I graduate.”
Next weekend, the team will travel to Wisconsin to tackle North America’s largest ski race, the American Birkebeiner, which spans over 30 miles on a trail connecting Cable to Hayward, Wisconsin. For most of the team’s skiers, this will be the longest race in which any of them has ever competed and will certainly mark a milestone in their ski careers.