Nation's best nordic skiers cool heels at Kincaid

Hundreds of cross-country skiers in town for the U.S. Cross Country Championships got another unwanted day off Sunday, courtesy of minus 11 temperatures at frozen Kincaid Park.

The cold that's gripping the state is making it impossible for the U.S. Ski Team to hold races that adhere to international racing rules, which require that it is no colder than minus 4 at race time.

On two straight days at Kincaid Park, the temperature didn't come near the legal limit.

Temperatures of minus 6 sidelined skiers Saturday, and on Sunday, it got even worse: the mercury at the park held steady at minus 11 most of the day. Organizers played the waiting game for several hours, pushing the start time from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and finally to 1:30 p.m. in the hope things would warm up. They finally gave up.

"It was minus 11. It wasn't a hard decision," John Farra, director of the ski team's nordic program, said in a press release. "It's obviously disappointing, but coaches and athletes understand this is an outdoor sport."

Organizers will try, try again today.

To increase their odds, they've both shortened the races and pushed back the start times.

Freestyle races have been shortened from 15 kilometers to 10 kilometers for the men, and from 10 kilometers to 5 kilometers for the women. The theory is the less time flesh and lungs are exposed to subzero temperatures, the better. Race time has pushed back from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the hope things will warm up later in the day.

The sprint race -- the first event on the schedule and the one that's been postponed twice now -- has been rescheduled for Tuesday. If the extended forecast promises warmer weather later in the week, though, it might be moved again.

Though the sprint is the shortest race in terms of distance -- skiers race about one kilometer -- it's the longest from start to finish, because it begins with preliminaries in the morning and continues in the afternoon with the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.

"It takes the whole day, so maybe the sprint gets bumped to Wednesday if it looks like we might get a few more hours of warm weather that day," said event spokesman John Quinley.

The new schedule requires skiers to race on four straight days. The original schedule spread the four races over six days, with training days planned for Sunday and Tuesday. The weather changed all that.

Though many skiers showed up at Kincaid on Saturday thinking the weather might cooperate, most stayed away Sunday, Quinley said. "There's fewer people out here today."

The racing trails are in great shape, hard and super-fast thanks to the cold. All they need are skiers -- and enough of a heat wave to send thermometers to minus 4.

"Things are very much in flux," Quinley said. "At the beginning of the coaches' meeting (Sunday), John Farra said they're sort of in unchartered territory here. We thought we had planned for all contingencies, but this is one we don't have much control over."

Anyone check availability at the Dome?

Anchorage Daily News