Michael Ward, right, holds off Thomas Seidel at White Pine on Saturday morning. Photo courtesy of Gary Fladmoe
Michael Ward, right, holds off Thomas Seidel at White Pine on Saturday morning. Photo courtesy of Gary Fladmoe

The weather finally cooperated for the Smartwool Wasatch Citizens Series finale at White Pine. In contrast to the blizzards that greeted skiers on race morning the past two years, last Saturday's cloudy weather and perfect skating track were a great relief for the 223 participants.

Three laps around the farm track are tough enough in good conditions, but nasty weather makes the skiing downright unpleasant and really slow. This year's winning time of 53 minutes, 26 seconds for 20 kilometers was more than six minutes faster than in 2013, and 13 minutes faster than in 2012. It definitely helps to be able to see where you're going.

U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team member Michael Ward took home the gold medal, beating last year's winner, Thomas Seidel, by just three seconds. With at least two members of the U.S. team having announced their retirement after the Olympics (Billy Demong and Todd Lodwick), Ward is hoping that his ability to sprint to the finish will get him to the next Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The Aspen native, who's been training in Park City this year, showed on Saturday that he has the speed and stamina to do just that.

Veteran Roxanne Toly easily outdistanced her rivals in the women's race. Her time of 1:04:19 was more than two minutes ahead of road-bike standout Jen Santoro. This was Toly's first victory in this year's series. With competition from skiers like Caitlin Gregg and Rosie Brennan, both on the podium at last week's American Birkebeiner, it's been a tough year for local skiers to come out on top.


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Several other Park City women also won their age groups this time. The closest race of the day was in the Novice Women's division, where Andrea Putt edged Stephanie Strohl in a photo finish. KPCW announcer Lynn Ware-Peek also had a squeaker, sprinting to the finish just ahead of Allison Frye to take the women's 45-49 class. Other winners were Deborah Wagner and Marit Glenne.

The older junior classes were dominated by skiers doing their last races before heading east for the Junior Nationals in Stowe, Vt., next week. Sophie McDonald was the fastest girl on the course, winning the under-18 division in 11:47 for 4.3 kilometers. More than a minute behind were her Park City Nordic Ski Team mates Brenna Egan and Julia Lazzaroni. Under-16 standout Leah Lange topped Sydney Palmer-Leger with a time of 12:52. Local boys on the podium included Noah Putt and Drew Palmer-Leger, who battled to a close finish in the under-16 class.

This was the last event in the five-race Smartwool Wasatch Citizens Series, so overall winners were determined. Points are awarded based on placing in each race, and the top four finishes are added up to generate point totals for each skier. Many class winners weren't determined until after Saturday's results were tallied.

Parkites who sealed their victories in the last race were Roxanne Toly, Lynn Ware-Peak, Andrea Putt, Brenna Egan, Sydney Palmer-Leger and Noah Putt. Others had sufficient points that they could have slept in on Saturday and still come out ahead for the year. Nancy Fichter and Tom Noaker, for example, each won the first four races and therefore already had maximum points. Other local skiers who were far enough ahead for a certain first place in their age groups were Deborah Wagner, Marit Glenne, and the Fassio family Savanna, John, and Lucas.

This was the 37th winter for the Wasatch Citizens Series, and it was one of the best ever. A new record was set for a classic technique race, with 252 participants at Mountain Dell on Jan. 18. And best of all, the weather and snow conditions were excellent for every race.