Chelsea Holmes, Alaska's best-kept nordic ski secret, made a name for herself Wednesday by capturing a medal at the national championships.
The Girdwood racer won the silver medal in the women's 20-kilometer freestyle race at the U.S. Cross Country championships at Utah's Soldier Hollow.
Holmes, who trains in Idaho rather than with Anchorage's high-profile Alaska Pacific University team, led a banner day for Alaska's women. Alaskans finished 2-3-4-5 behind Caitlin Gregg of Minneapolis, who won by more than three minutes.
"It's my first nationals podium, so I'm psyched," Holmes said in a press release from the U.S. Ski Team.
Holmes broke away from bronze-medalist Rosie Brennan of APU in the fourth and final lap of the mass-start race.
APU's Kate Fitzgerald placed fourth, South High grad Caitlin Patterson, who trains in Vermont, was fifth, UAA's Marine Dusser was 10th and APU skiers Becca Rorabaugh and Sarah Cresap placed 13th and 14th, respectively, to give Alaska seven skiers in the top 14.
Holmes, 26, grew up in Girdwood and still spends time there with her family during the offseason. Last summer she spent time training on nearby Eagle Glacier.
She was an NCAA skier for four seasons at the University of Nevada, and joined the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation in Idaho when she decided to pursue racing beyond college.
Holmes said Gregg quickly skied out of sight Wednesday.
"She slayed it, so then it was a suffer-fest," she said. "Rosie caught me going into my third lap and I skied with her and we took turns leading and pushing the pace, because there were a couple girls behind us and we both didn't want to get caught.
"Then somewhere along the fourth lap I decided I needed to make a little gap, and then it was stars. My head was in the clouds for the last 3K. Head down and push."
Gregg showed why she is headed to Europe to join the elite members of the U.S. Ski Team, including APU's Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks and Sadie Bjornsen. She was in a class of her own, gaining on the field with every lap to win in 55 minutes, 33.7 seconds.
Holmes was 3:36.4 back in second place. She finished 15 seconds ahead of Brennan and 22 seconds ahead of Fitzgerald.
Sylvan Ellefson of Vail, Colo., won the gold medal in the men's 30-K, with Brian Gregg second and Kris Freeman third.
Erik Bjornsen and Lex Treinen placed fifth and sixth, respectively, to lead the Alaska men.
UAA fourth in Utah
The UAA cross-country ski team bagged a pair of runner-up finishes on Wednesday, the final day of competition for the Utah Invitational at Utah's Soldier Hollow, where the Seawolves finished fourth overall.
Marine Dusser was second in the women's 20-kilometer freestyle race, and Lukas Ebner finished second in the men's 30-kilometer race. The runner-up finishes were worth 37 points apiece and helped UAA score 477 points through eight events.
Host Utah won the overall title with 657.5 points, with Denver taking second at 649 and New Mexico in third with 566.5.
Dusser, a sophomore from France, clocked 1 hour, 43.4 seconds to finish more than 23 seconds behind Denver's Sylvia Nordskar (1:00:19.8). UAA freshman MacKenzie Kanady (1:04:10.8) was fifth in the women's race and sophomore Patricia Sprecher (1:08:52.3) was 16th.
Ebner, a senior from Germany, was closer to running down the leader in the men's race. He finished in 1:20:52.9, less than five seconds behind New Mexico's Aku Nikander (1:20:48.0). UAA freshman Etienne Richard took 11th at 1:24:51.3, and freshman Andrew Arnold was 13th at 1:24:52.5.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.