If going from sea level to altitude bothered the Alaskans on the first day of the U.S. Cross Country Championships at Utah's Soldier Hollow, it didn't show.
Led by gold medalists Becca Rorabaugh and Erik Bjornsen, Alaskans skied to four of the six podium spots Saturday on the opening day of the U.S. Cross Country Championships at Utah's Soldier Hollow.
The national title was the first for Rorabaugh and the second for Bjornsen. Also earning medals were Reese Hanneman, second in the men's 15-kilometer race, and Caitlin Patterson, third in the women's 10-kilometer race.
For many of the Alaskans, the races were the first since a couple of Besh Cup races two weeks ago at Kincaid Park and Beech Lake.
"I felt really strong," Rorabaugh said in a press release from the U.S. Ski Team, "but mostly I felt like I was racing really hard at altitude, trying to hold it together, so I'm pretty amazed. It was an awesome day."
Racers skied a challenging and hilly 5-kilometer loop that was used in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Bjornsen called it "a super-challenging course," Rorabaugh deemed it difficult, Patterson called it very hard and Hanneman said it's "probably one of the harder courses in the country."
"I'm really happy with how I was able to pace (it)," Hanneman said in the press release. "It's always deceptive at altitude. I felt terrible in the race, but obviously that doesn't really matter. You just have to put it out of your mind how bad you feel and just keep going for it."
Rorabaugh and Hanneman are from Fairbanks and Bjornsen is from Winthrop, Wash., but all three make their homes in Anchorage as members of the Alaska Pacific University nordic program, the home base of World Cup sprint champion Kikkan Randall.
Randall and most of the U.S. Ski Team's elite racers are in Europe preparing for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, although a strong field remains for this week's national championships.
Bjornsen won the men's race by 11 seconds over Hanneman, with Kris Freeman of New Hampshire taking bronze. Freeman is a three-time Olympian and for years one of the leaders of the U.S. men's team. He's trying to make his fourth Olympic team.
"I was racing well for the first 10 (kilometers) and I just couldn't hold it the last lap," Freeman said. "The young guys came through strong."
Anchorage skier Scott Patterson's 10th-place finish gave Alaska three men in the top 10. As for the Alaska women, they dominated thoroughly, grabbing six of the top 10 spots.
Rorabaugh beat Caitlin Gregg of Minneapolis by 14.2 seconds. Anchorage's Caitlin Patterson, a former All-American for Vermont who still trains in Vermont, claimed third place for her first medal at the national championships.
"I was able to move up a lot on the second lap," Patterson said. "I was really happy with that and with the third place."
APU's Kate Fitzgerald and Rosie Brennan finished fifth and sixth, respectively, with UAA's Marine Dusser ninth. Claiming 10th place was Girdwood's Chelsea Holmes, who trains in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Bjornsen won last season's 15-K freestyle national title and was happy to open this year's championships with a 15-K classic, which he called his favorite race.
"I had good memories from the 15-K last year," he said, "and I tried to go out feeling a little confident, but I was also trying to ski smooth and strong and not be too confident.
"I knew there were a lot of fast guys. I didn't actually expect to win but I'm really happy that it worked out that way."
Competition continues this week at Soldier Hollow, where two of the three remaining races are sprints, including's Sunday's freestyle race.
Not being contested at Soldier Hollow are the relay and the 50-K men's and 30-K women's races. Those national titles will be awarded at Kincaid Park in late March when the SuperTour Finals come to Anchorage.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
U.S. Cross Country Championships
Soldier Hollow, Utah
Men's 15-kilometer classic
1) Erik Bjornsen 39:03.6; 2) Reese Hanneman 39:14.6; 3) Kris Freeman 39:26.4; 4) Slyvan Ellefson 39:33.9; 5) Brian Gregg 39:47.9.
10) Scott Patterson 40:11.8; 19) Silas Talbot 40:58.2; 23) Alexander Treinan 41:08.6; 24) Logan Hanneman 41:17.4; 27) Lukas Ebner 41:32.1; 28) Tyler Kornfeld 41:38.4; 30) Eric Packer 41:43.8; 36) Jonas Loeffler 42:15; 42) Dylan Watts 42:29.2; 43) Peter Kling 42:30.8; 44) Etienne Richard 42:37.4; 54) Jack Novak 43:04.9; 58) Andrew Dougherty 43:17.8; 73) Andrew Arnold 44:00.4; 74) Thomas O'Harra 44:02.1; 75) Seiji Takagi 44:02.5; 76) Kenneth Brewer 44:02.9; 80) Isaac Lammers 44:15.2; 95) Tanner Ramey 45:01.5; 105) Forrest Mahlen 45:49.2; 107) Daniel Serventi 45:51.7; 112) Davis Dunlap 46:04.5; 115) Matthew Muffoletto 46:07; 120) David McPhetres 46:19.8; 123) Fischer Gangemi 46:24.5; 125) Jacob Volz 46:27.9; 129) John Farr 46:33; 134) Garth Schulz 46:54.1; 141) Stefan Hajdukovich 47:33.5; 146) Brandon Brewster 47:53.6; 174) Bryant Brewster 51:03.6.
Women's 10-kilometer classic
1) Becca Rorabaugh 29:09.9; 2) Caitlin Gregg 29:24.1; 3) Caitlin Patterson 29:49.7; 4) Anja Gruber 30:31.8; 5) Kate Fitzgerald 30:37.2.
6) Rosie Brennan 30:40.7; 9) Marine Dusser 31:15.8; 10) Chelsea Holmes 31:18; 22) Sarah Cresap 32:26.8; 30) Hannah Boyer 32:46.4; 34) Jessica Yeaton 33:03.7; 35) Sarissa Lammers 33:04.1; 47) Stephanie Kirk 33:25.6; 55) Lauren Fritz 33:47.4; 58) Synnoeva Bruland 33:53.9; 60) Emma Gerrard 33:56.8; 61 MacKenzie Kanady 34:00.7; 62) Kate Backstrum 34:01.4; 63) Heather Edic 34:04.3; 66) Annie Liotta 34:12.1; 67) Patricia Sprecher 34:15.3; 77) Ann Spencer 34:47.5; 78) Taryn Hunt-Smith 34:48.3; 85) Heidi Brook 35:18.5; 88) Megan Edic 35:22.5; 89) Kailey Mucha 35:23.7; 102) Bree Mucha 35:57.8; 108) Alyson McPhetres 36:08.9; 116) Tsaina Mahlen 36:53.5; 127) Mykaela McMullen 38:16.1; 132) Sara Falconer 38:40.8; 136) Annika Flynn 38:55; 138) Emma Tarbath 39:24.
UAA 4th in Utah
Sparked by Marine Dusser's nordic victory, the UAA ski team is in fourth place after the first half of the Utah Invitational, which opened Saturday with nordic races at Soldier Hollow and alpine races at Park City Mountain Resort.
Dusser was the top college racer in the national championship 10-K classic at Soldier Hollow. She placed 10th overall in 31:15.8 and owned a big gap over runnerup Sloan Storey of Utah (31:36.7).
Synnoeve Bruland and MacKenzie Kanada placed 10th and 11th, respectively, and Patricia Sprecher added a 15th-place finish for the UAA women.
The men landed three in the top 15 of the men's 15-K collegiate standings -- Lukas Ebner (5th), Etienne Richard (10th) and Andrew Arnold (15th) .
UAA's top finishers in the alpine competition were Niko Harmanen, 14th in the men's giant slalom, and Vanessa Berther, 22nd in the women's slalom.
Utah (362.5 points) has a big lead over Denver (291) in the team standings. UAA has 236 and trails third-place New Mexico by less than 30 points going into Sunday's alpine competition. The meet wraps up Thursday with nordic races at Soldier Hollow.
By BETH BRAGG