JNQ race in Crested Butte December 17
by Than Acuff
While the Crested Butte Nordic Team (CBNT) is just hitting the snow, preparations for the upcoming race season started long ago following the age-old adage, fast skiers are made in the summer.
The team is working under new head coach Ben Theyerl this year. Theyerl hails from Eau Claire, Wisconsin where he raced as a junior before moving on to race at Colby College in Maine, the same college former CBNT Nordic head coach Molly Susla skied for and attended. He spent last year with the CBNT as an assistant coach and when Susla stepped down from the head coaching job, Theyerl jumped into the role.
“We still did the summer workouts together and that offered some transition that was good for the kids,” says Theyerl.
Theyerl has Vince Rogers and Brittany Perkins helping and Murray Banks is taking over the Devo program for kids in grades six to eight.
“This will be his 55th year of coaching,” says Theyerl. “We have the most experienced coach in the country living on Whiterock Avenue.”
As for the summer session, anywhere from 10 to 15 CBNT athletes committed to the summer dryland season to continue efforts with strength training as well as building a base fitness.
“Those numbers are a big testament to how committed our skiers are here,” says Theyerl.
That energy from the summer then carried into the fall as several of the CBNT athletes went on to successful fall seasons in both mountain bike and cross-country racing including a state title win by mountain biker, now Nordic skier Finn Veit, a team state title for the entire mountain bike team, several of whom also race Nordic and a third-place finish at the state championships by cross-country runner, now Nordic skier, Ruby Pendy.
“Most of our kids do fall sports and we had some very promising results from our athletes,” says Theyerl. “It was a quick transition for a lot of kids to skis and we were able to hit it pretty hard.”
The Nordic ski season started on November 1 officially for the CBNT and thanks to a couple of early storms, the team was able to get on snow immediately both up at Lily Lake as well as out their back door on the bench.
The upcoming season looks especially promising too as the CBNT has 15 athletes racing in all three age groups from u20 to u16, many of whom already have several race seasons under their belts.
“One of the cool things is we didn’t lose anybody to graduation from last year and all of the kids took big jumps last year including some qualifying for Junior Nationals and posting some good results,” says Theyerl.
Furthermore, Theyerl is seeing a new energy during the first two weeks of workouts thanks to last year, the fall and an upcoming race right here in Crested Butte on December 17.
“This year it’s been really cool seeing the kids bringing their success from fall into the ski season,” says Theyerl. “The first JNQ (Junior National Qualifier) of the season is in Crested Butte so that provides a little extra push. They’re taking on some pretty hard training and doing it in a thoughtful way the past couple of weeks.”
Given all of that, expectations are pretty high for the team. With four racing in the u20 age class, three in the u18 age class and six to seven in the u16 age class, Theyerl expects the team to have a big impact both in their division and at the national level.
“Those numbers speak to how unified we are as a team and how deep we are,” says Theyerl. “Last year we qualified three for Junior Nationals and just missed having five or six there by a spot or two. This year we’re focused to not let those small margins go. I’d like to qualify five or six this year.”
In addition, given the depth and experience on his team, Theyerl will be taking four of his athletes, Sawyer Ezzell, Katie and Piper O’Neill and Oliver White, to Senior Nationals over the New Year in Michigan.
“They get to compete against the best skiers in the nation,” says Theyerl. “It’s good practice for our program to have kids competing at that level and they can look at the results sheet and see how they stack up against Olympians.”
But before all of that, the CBNT will be charging on the local trails and then head to West Yellowstone for the annual Thanksgiving Camp to see the bigger racing world. Then it’s back to Crested Butte to defend their home trails at the first JNQ of the season on December 17. Following the holidays and Senior Nationals, they then enter the race season full on.
“Once mid-January hits, we’ll be racing every other week,” says Theyerl. “We want to continue that legacy that we’re a ski town that also does the hard kind of skiing.”