Soldier Hollow booms during Cross-Country Junior National Championships |

Soldier Hollow booms during Cross-Country Junior National Championships

Approaching the main start area on the final day of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Cross-Country Junior National Championships at Soldier Hollow had the feel of walking through a boomtown. Cars and vans from all over sit in the lower parking lot. Spectators and racers — ubiquitously dressed in spandex suits and large variants of the Oakley Blade sunglasses — flowed in and out of the race course.

In the final ascent to the central observation building, the side of the road was pleated with a continuous line of ski-length duffel bags, occasionally attended by their owners. Behind the bags were what looked like saw horses laden with ski waxing paraphernalia and shipping container trailers where coaches looked over rosters, or were entranced in the crucial ritual of waxing skis. In front of one trailer, a sign read "Do not disturb, in the zone."

There was also mud, and there were signs for that, too, but it was gold that had brought athletes and coaches from across the U.S., and Saturday was the last to earn any of that. The week-long race series was culminating with the three-by-three relay races, in which racers would represent their divisions.

The track was groomed for a 3 kilometer loop, giving each relay leg one lap — three laps per team. The U-20 men kicked off the race at 9 a.m. with Alaska earning the first gold medal of the day.

Alaska's second leg racer, Canyon Tobin, closed the gap on Rocky Mountain, allowing Hunter Wonders to finish in first on the anchor leg. New England finished second, followed by Rocky Mountain in third.

The U-20 women's relay went next, with New England taking first, followed by Rocky Mountain and the Intermountain Division — which Utah is a part of.

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Sofia Shomento, who now attends Dartmouth College, took to the course with purple/pink hair for the Intermountain Division's first leg, called a scramble leg.

"It's a Dartmouth tradition," she said. "Pink hair makes you fast."

She said taking the scramble leg equates to hanging on with the frontrunners and tagging over to the middle leg in a good position. When the time came, Shomento tagged Arriana Woods for the second leg of the race.

Woods said the week had taken a toll on her power, but she knew if she could leave the team's anchor in a good position, the team would finish well.

"It was almost harder than yesterday even though it was shorter," said Woods, who hails from Montana. "It was like the cherry on top for pain. It was pretty fun."

Annika Landis of Middleberry College, skiing for a Sun Valley team, finished the race for the Intermountain Division. Following the race, she was congratulated by coaches and passersby for her strong performance.

"When I got tagged we were in a good spot, and I was hungry for a podium, so I just rolled my eyes back and went for it," she said.

She had the fastest third lap of the race, finishing in 12 minutes, 3 seconds.

New England took first in the boys U-18 division, followed by Rocky Mountain, then Alaska.

In the U-18 girls division, Pacific Northwest took first, followed by New England, then Alaska.

The Intermountain Division teams finished seventh (comprising Sarah Morgan, Sophia Mazzoni and Annabel Hagen) and ninth (comprising Lilly Brunelle, Savanna Fassio and Geneva Humbert).

Humbert, a Park City Ski and Snowboard athlete, anchored the second team and collapsed after crossing the line with the eighth-fastest leg of her lap.

"It was the hardest thing I've probably ever done," Humbert said after regaining her breath. "I felt like I was working so hard and I was not going very fast at all."

She and others said the soft snow absorbed their efforts, giving them little in return, and the heat took its toll on the racers.

"I just thought that my team worked so hard for us to get where we were, I couldn't let them down," Humbert said. "And I just thought that I just have to give this my all. This is the last race, I have nothing I have to recover for, so I just need to go for it."

Before the U-16 races, the last of the day, teams began congregating along the race course to cheer their teammates on. The Intermountain Division teams had plodded up the last, long climb and had grouped in a kind of après party, compete with a little speaker pumping out music to set the tone.

The older racers, their jobs done, were mostly shirtless, and chased the U-16 competitors as they went past, shouting encouragement.

"We're racing on snow, but it definitely feels like midsummer," said Drew Palmer-Leger, who hails from Park City but competes for a club in Sun Valley, Idaho. "At the beginning of the week, there was a little bit of natural snow, so it looked like winter. But now it just looks like some ribbons of snow out in the middle of the grass fields."

After the U-16 boys finished, with New England taking gold, followed by Intermountain's team (comprising Parkite Aidan Rasmussen, Elijah Weening of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Kai Mittelsteadt of Montana) and Pacific Northwest, the end of the event was in sight.

"It's always been fun on the home course, because you know all the technique zones really well," said Sarah Morgan of Wasatch Nordic Ski Academy. "It's also sad to say bye to everyone because we won't see them for most of the summer, but yeah, it's been really fun, and today was a great day."

Earlier in the week, Morgan took silver in the U-18 sprint race.

"I wasn't going into it expecting to do quite as well," she said. "Getting that second place was amazing, because that was my first actual JNs podium besides the relays last year."

She said overall, this year's competition was strong.

Intermountain took seventh and ninth in the girls U-16 races, and shortly after, the event started to break down. The racers started picking up their bags and packing their skis. The saw horses came down, the signs no longer corresponded to a real presence of flow among the wax technicians. All the gold had been harvested, and the boomtown was collapsing for another year.