2023 USSS Cross Country Ski Junior National Championships, aka Junior Nationals, aka JNs, take place in Fairbanks, Alaska, from March 13–16. Conditions look superb and the racing should be of high quality; the organizing committee knows what they’re doing.
Here’s what you need to know about the races:
Where are results?
Here are live results for all 2023 Junior Nationals races. As races go on and more points are accumulated, you can also find overall rankings (as for the Alaska Cup, also for things like the Roger Weston top high school award) here.
When are the races?
Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday of this week. There is no JNs relay this year, per a vote by the Junior National Oversight Committee, in an attempt to reduce costs for athlete participation. Fairbanks in March is paradise for a nordic skier. It is also paradise with relatively pricey hotel rooms, located at the far end of a typically not short, not cheap airplane flight. Excising the relay moves JNs from a four races in six days format to a three races in four days format. For reference as to the costs involved, most teams flying up from the Lower 48 ended up paying slightly over $3,000 for this trip, according to a review of publicly available team logistical information. Team Alaska’s trip to Minneapolis last year cost each athlete (or: their parents) roughly $3,500 for the longer race week.
Here is a table with race dates and times (local time at venue: Alaska Time, four hours behind the East Coast).
This table has been updated throughout the week; I also deleted the first two days, since those races have happened now. The times for Thursday’s mass start races reflect the revised/condensed schedule for Thursday, and are current as of Wednesday evening.
|date||race||time (AK)||time (EST)|
|Thursday, March 16||U16 boys 5km mass start skate||12 p.m.||4 p.m.|
|U16 girls 5km mass start skate||12:10 p.m.||4:10 p.m.|
|U18 girls 10km mass start skate||12:25 p.m.||4:25 p.m.|
|U18 boys 10km mass start skate||12:45 p.m.||4:45 p.m.|
|U20 girls 15km mass start skate||1:55 p.m.||5:55 p.m.|
|U20 boys 15km mass start skate||2:40 p.m.||6:40 p.m.|
Is there a livestream?
Yes! Click here for full links and details on this. I remember watching a livestream from 2017 Spring Series held at this venue, and things were well set up then, so I would anticipate a quality production this week after six more years’ worth of experience/advancements in technology.
Andrew Kastning is scheduled to commentate the livestream, which should be great. I am also contemplating something live blog-ish for this site on race days, though the utility of that may be less given that Andrew will be calling the stream. Stay tuned to see how user-friendly this is and if that is something that folks respond well to and find helpful.
Who is racing?
The top athletes from each of ten regions around the country. 418 athletes in all. You can find full rosters for all teams here, in an article reflecting my sleuthing and data compilation in advance of start lists being posted. Now that those are up, you can find full entry lists here (sorted by division) and/or here (sorted by last name), in objectively more user-friendly formats.
What are the courses?
Here are maps and elevation profiles for the three races in order: interval-start classic (Monday), skate sprint (Tuesday), and mass start skate (Thursday). The sprint course was designed in consultation with one Kikkan Randall; yes that is why it is called the “pink course.”
You can find extremely detailed information on each of the three courses here, including a text listing of climbs and their duration (!) and video tours (!!): classic distance, skate sprint, mass start skate.
Note that the Birch Hill homologated course typically used for interval-start races, as on Monday, is different from the homologated course more frequently used for mass start races, as on Thursday. Having raced both multiple times I would describe the Black Funk interval-start course, in broad terms, as “more technical” and “harder,” though the South Tower mass start course is scarcely easy, and the devil’s bargain of an “easier” course is that you just have to push more the whole time. Skiing!
How cold is it there?
Probably not as cold as your phone’s weather app says it is in Fairbanks, thankfully. Current generic forecasts for “Fairbanks” generally show overnight lows as cold as –17° F, and daytime highs no warmer than the single digits Fahrenheit. This would imply FIS-legal races — not an academic concern this year, as all JNs races will for the first time also be FIS races — but not particularly warm ones.
Thankfully, the venue itself, Birch Hill, is located on a, well, hill above the city (also there are birch trees), and it is typically far warmer up there than just a few hundred feet down below in the city itself, particularly when it is clear and cold. Also, I can’t prove this, and this may just be the desperate Alaskan emerging from a long winter in me talking, but I’d swear that 15° and sunny at Birch Hill in March feels like 25° or 30° Outside. Fairbanks is a special place.
Anyway, you can find Birch Hill weather here (general weather page), here (detailed weather), and here (mobile-friendly). Full disclosure, on Sunday afternoon when I write this it is +3° F at the venue and +5° F down in town, so so much for my “Birch Hill is warmer” theory. Clear and cold conditions, if present, will likely lead to Birch Hill being relatively more temperate. If not, well, welcome to Fairbanks, kids. At least you have hardwax skiing.
Who will win the Alaska Cup (for strongest region)?
I don’t really want to hash out form charts or make predictions for junior athletes here; I am comfortable with the level of coverage for junior racing that I have done to date, but predicting favorites among, like, 15-year-olds who are in some cases probably flying to a ski race for the first time in their life feels like a bridge too far. Instead, I will simply present the Alaska Cup winners since the turn of the century, in this screenshot from a USSS page (New England also won in 2022):
Draw your own conclusions from this.
I guess I will say, at the level of divisional strength and without handicapping individual athletes, that New England has to be a presumptive favorite by this point until proven otherwise, given, well, 14 of the past 19 years. Scoreboard, and all that. That said, the home team of Alaska claimed its eponymous cup the last time that JNs were held in Fairbanks, in 2013. But New England won nonetheless the last time that JNs were held in Alaska, in Anchorage in 2019 (despite Gus Schumacher and Kendall Kramer sweeping every race for Team Alaska, then heading off to race their first World Cups later that month), so, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Speaking of World Cup athletes, the last JNs held in Fairbanks featured cameos from several young skiers who came over from NTG Lillehammer as part of an exchange program. If you would like to go down memory lane for a moment, here are results showing 16-year-old Tiril and Lotta Udnes Weng winning the 2013 J1 girls 5km skate. By over a minute. For five kilometers. Wonder what ever happened to them.
— Gavin Kentch