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Van Hoevenberg hosts state Nordic championships

Lake Placid's Tate Frantz makes his way along the course.

LAKE PLACID — The brand-new Nordic center at Mount Van Hoevenberg hosted its biggest event to date as the New York State Ski Racing Association held two races over the weekend for athletes ranging in age from under-14 and up.

The races drew some of New York state’s top cross country skiers and featured classic competitions on Saturday, Feb. 20 and skate races the following, including a large amount of athletes from Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and Paul Smith’s College.

On Saturday, skiers had clear skies at times and also raced in steadily falling snow that transformed Mount Van Hoevenberg into a winter wonderland.

For Lake Placid High School sophomore Andrew Scanio, the NYSSRA races served as his most competitive weekend of the season, and he made the most of the opportunity. Had it not been for the cononavirus pandemic, he would have most likely been moving on to compete in the state public high school championships as well as Nordic’s junior national races, which took him to California a season ago.

As a U16 competitor, Scanio had been more accustomed to racing shorter distances than the 10k course he took on Saturday. Up to the challenge, Scanio came through with the fastest finishing time among all the junior men’s skiers, who competed in classes up to U20. Scanio covered the two-loop course in 32 minutes, 10.1 seconds. In winning the U16 class, Scanio prevailed in a tight race, edging runner-up Braden Bellizzi of Honeoye Falls-Lima by 3.1 seconds.

“It was longer than I was used to,” Scanio said following his classic triumph. “Usually U16 does 5ks, but since this is a state championship sort of thing, they want us all doing the same distance.

When asked if it was a tough race, Scanio answered “Definitely.”

“These trails are crazy. The downhills are super tricky, and the uphills, they’re not necessarily steep but they just continue on for way longer than any other uphills anywhere,” he said. “We did two laps, and I tried to pace myself — easy on the first lap and try to pick up my pace on the second lap with whatever gas I have left in the tank I guess, and I think it worked. Overall, I think I had a really solid race today.”

Scanio went on to claim a sweep over the weekend after he also took top U16 honors in Sunday’s 10k skate race. It marked the second weekend Scanio skied to two wins in a big event on the Nordic center’s new trails. He earned his first pair of victories earlier this year in the New York Ski Education Foundation Harry Eldridge Memorial races.

“This is kind of the biggest moment for my racing this winter,” Scanio said. “I was really hyped up, I was really nervous because I knew there was a lot of tough competition. There were a lot of people who I raced against at states last year.

“This is my first year racing after doing the summer program with the NYSEF team, and I think that’s definitely helped keep me fit and ready to keep trucking along through the winter,” he added.

Saranac Lake’s Sophia Kelting was the top junior racer in Saturday’s classic, which was a 7.5k race for the women. Like Scanio, Kelting had the fastest finish time in the junior field, crossing the line in :27.50.7. She competed in the U18 class, and also claimed a weekend sweep with a win in Sunday’s skate race.

Trey Frantz also nailed down a win for area competitors in the classic, taking first place in the U14 class. The Lake Placid resident covered that age group’s 5k course in 21:11.1. Aidan Ripp of Paul Smiths took the U20 older junior boys win in :32:11.9.

The senior and masters skiers were the last group to ski Saturday, and they were the ones competing in the heaviest snowfall of the day, which came down in big but light flakes.

St. Lawrence University senior Timothy Cunningham had the fastest overall finish time for the men with a :31:25.1 result. Steph Nicols gave the Saints Nordic team a sweep on the day, taking the women’s overall 7.5k title in :26:06.8.

Lake Placid’s Matt Cook has been an avid distance racer year-round at events in the Adirondacks. On Saturday he took on the course wearing a hoodie sweatshirt with his arms bare from the elbows down. A member of the United States National Nordic Combined team in his younger days, Cook was one of two competitors in the Master Men 3 division in the classic.

Depending on how you look at it, Cook finished either runner-up or in last place, but it didn’t matter to him. With his wife and boy there to cheer him on, Cook skied his way to a finish time of :36:16.6.

“I had an awesome race. It was just fun to be out there,” Cook said. “It was a blast. A tough course, but it’s pretty much all man-made snow, so it’s amazing and it’s such world class specs. Honestly to have this in the backyard for the Tri-Lakes, it’s world class. They can hold a World Cup biathlon here, cross country, Nordic combined, and I’m sure that’s the plan. This is a legacy. This is full on.

“I’ve been out here about 10 times, mostly with my son,” Cook added. “I felt good today. At this point in the game, it’s just fun to put a bib on, it’s awesome to race, but you kind of have to have low expectations. If it goes well, that’s great. If you bonk, you just have fun and then have a beer. No bonking today.”

Both days of racing featured fields of more than 100 skiers, with many competing in each race. Start times were staggered to avoid crowding during the event.