Packer leads APU podium sweep at U.S. ski championships

Alaska Pacific University's legion of zoom was back in business Saturday.

Anchorage's Eric Packer led a podium sweep for APU on the final day of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships, winning the classic sprint on a snowy day in Houghton, Michigan.

The speedy men's team from APU dominated the race series, claiming gold medals in three of the four races and earning six of the 12 medals awarded.

After getting shut out in Thursday's freestyle races — Scott Patterson was APU's top finisher, placing fifth — the Alaska men rebounded in a big way in Saturday's classic sprint.

Packer, 25, captured the first national title of his career by outsprinting teammate Reese Hanneman of Fairbanks in the finals. Didrik Elset of Michigan Tech edged APU's Tyler Kornfield for third place, but because Elset is from Norway, he is ineligible to win medals at the U.S. championship. That meant Kornfield climbed the victory podium with his teammates.

"Pretty sick," Hanneman said by email. "What a display of the strength and depth and development of this team. I feel so blessed to get to be a part of it."

Hanneman was the winner of Monday's freestyle sprint, and in last Sunday's 15-kilometer classic race, Patterson was the gold medalist and Packer was the bronze medalist.


The two medals in Houghton gives Packer four for his career. In 2012, he won a pair of bronze medals.

"Winning at nationals is a dream come true and is an amazing feeling for me," Packer said in a press release from the U.S. Ski Team. "Winning has been a goal of my for quite some time and finally making that happen was awesome.

"I was really tired after the 30-K going into the sprints today, so during the final heat I really tried to stay focused and relaxed so I could ski as well as I could going into the final stretch."

According to the ski team's release, Packer double-poled his way through the qualifying round on skate skis. He switched to classic skis for the heats.

Saturday's race marked the first time at the championships that no Alaska women picked up medals, although two them made the six-woman finals.

Caitlin Patterson of Anchorage, who skis for Vermont's Craftsbury Green Racing Project, placed fourth and Chelsea Holmes of Girdwood, who skis for APU, was fifth. Patterson's teammate, Kaitlynn Miller, took the gold.

Though neither won a medal Saturday, it was a good week for Patterson and Holmes. Patterson left Houghton with three medals — two golds and a bronze — and Holmes left with a silver and a bronze.

A number of other Alaskans also shined at the championships.

Four men and two women earned spots on a variety of national teams, including APU's Thomas O'Harra, who was named to the World Junior Championship team for the third straight year. He'll compete in Romania next month.

APU's Logan Hanneman and UAA's Mackenzie Kanady on Saturday secured spots on the U-23 World Championship team for skier 23 and under. They'll race in Romania too.

APU's Hunter Wonders and the Alaska Winter Stars' Gus Schumacher were named to the U-18 team team that will race in Estonia next month. As the top U-18 skier at the national championships, Wonders also clinched a berth in the Youth Olympic Games next month in Lillehammer.

And Molly Gellert of the Alaska Winter Stars gained a spot on the women's U-18 team. Gellert, a 15-year-old who also skis for West High, finished seventh in the U-18 overall standings but made the six-woman team when a skier who finished ahead of her opted to go to the World Juniors, West coach Anson Moxness said.