As she stood in the snowy Kincaid Park stadium wearing Birkenstock sandals, skier Kendall Kramer of West Valley High School stated the obvious.
“We don’t get cold,” she said.
She was talking about her teammates and, more generally, skiers from Fairbanks, who are experiencing a 50-degree turnaround this week at the state high school ski championships in Anchorage.
“The last two weeks it’s been at least 20 below in town,” Kramer said.
And the sub-zero temperatures up north haven’t been confined to the last two weeks, West Valley’s Maggie Druckenmiller noted.
“The average temperature in January was minus 24,” she said.
It was 31 degrees Thursday at Kincaid for the first day of the state high school cross-country ski championships, and the Wolf Pack were a team on fire.
Led by Kramer, West Valley landed three skiers on the podium. Kramer and Druckenmiller finished 1-2 in the girls 5-kilometer freestyle race and Eric Difolco grabbed second place in the boys 7.5K to give the Wolf Pack half of the podium spots.
“It’s just really comfortable here," Kramer said of racing in Anchorage. “It’s nice to go from slow snow to fast snow. ... Speedier conditions definitely make us all feel a lot faster.”
The Service Cougars also heated up the trails to put themselves in first place in both the boys and girls team standings heading into Friday’s mass-start classic race. In second place are the West Valley boys and girls.
No one was hotter Thursday than Kramer and Service junior Alexander Maurer.
Kramer, a senior who is the top junior-level girl not only in Alaska but also in the United States, won girls race by 37 seconds over Druckenmiller, posting a time of 13 minutes, 50.5 seconds.
Maurer won the boys 7.5K race by 15 seconds over Difolco with a time of 17:08.3.
Placing third in each race was a Chugiak skier — Adrianna Proffitt was about two seconds behind Druckenmiller, and Michael Earnhart was about 15 seconds behind Difolco. Fourth place went to West’s Ivy Eski in the girls race and Dimond’s Peter Hinds in the boys race.
It was the 13th individual state championship for Kramer, who owns six in track, four in skiing and three in cross-country running.
It was the first for Maurer, who placed third in last year’s classic race for his best finish at the state ski championships prior to Thursday.
Maurer was one of the last skiers to begin the interval-start race, which allowed Service coach Jan Buron to provide him with a race update about 5 or 6 kilometers into the race.
“I was at the start of (the Lekisch trail) and coach told me I was 18 seconds ahead,” Maurer said. “I got really excited and I kept going really hard the last (kilometer) or two.”
Maurer hopes to parlay Thursday’s win into the Skimeister title, which goes to the boy and girl with the fastest combined times from Thursday’s freestyle race and Friday’s classic race. The championships wrap up Saturday with relay races.
If he manages to keep his pursuers at bay in the 10K classic, Maurer would become the third Service boy in the last five years to win the Skimeister award. Canyon Tobin won it in 2016, and Gus Schumacher won it in 2017 and 2018.
Last year’s winner was Zanden McMullen of South, who along with Kramer and Schumacher are headed to the World Junior Championships next week in Germany.
“I’ve always aspired to be like Gus Schumacher,” Maurer said. “He was my teammate for awhile and seeing him win all of those races made me want to do the same thing.”
Maurer was a freshman when Schumacher was a senior, and now he and Joel Power are the team leaders for the Service boys, Buron said. “They set a good example,” the coach said.
Maurer led a group of four Service skiers into the top 11 of the boys race. Aaron Power, a freshman, placed seventh; Joel Power was ninth and Hayden Ulbrich 11th.
West Valley placed five boys in the top 13 and trail the Cougars by a slim 21 seconds in the team standings. In the girls team standings, Service leads West Valley by about 35 seconds after an impressive first day.
The Cougars placed five girls in the top 11, with four of them placing consecutively. Tatum Witter was fifth, Garvee Tobin sixth, Marit Flora seventh and Meredith Schwartz eighth. Neena Brubaker claimed 11th place for Service.
Kramer and Druckenmiller were West Valley’s only top-10 skiers, but three others placed in the top 19. One of them, 19th-place Mallory Presler, is Kramer’s cousin.
Kramer said the experience of winning state titles has changed from her sophomore season to her senior season, and not just because she now has the pressure of defending her Skimeister titles.
“It does lose some of the excitement from when I didn’t know if I was capable,” she said. “Now I absolutely know I’m capable, so I’m more excited now about seeing people like Maggie and Eric do so well.”
Nearly 200 skiers are competing in the three-day state championships, which are at Kincaid Park for the first time since 2016. After scant snow most of the winter, conditions are ideal thanks to several inches of new snow in the last few days.
Seward junior Cody Bryden was making the most of his time of the trails until one of his ski poles — purchased two weeks ago, he said — broke right below the grip. He raced the final few hundred meters with one pole.
Bryden, who placed 74th in a field of 94 boys, said he laughed when the pole broke.
“That’s the second time I’ve had a pole break while racing this season,” he said. “I like this one-pole-wonder stuff.”
ASAA/First National Bank state cross country ski championships
Girls team scores
1) Service 59:32.8; 2) West Valley 1:00:07.8; 3) West 1:01:22.2; 4) Chugiak 1:05:31.1; 5) Dimond 1:06:20.2; 6) Eagle River 1:06:47.9; 7) South 1:07:17.0; 8) Palmer 1:08:45.7; 9) Soldotna 1:09:06.2; 10) Homer 1:11:19.8; 11) Colony 1:11:24.8; 12) Kenai 1:11:28.4; 13) Grace Christian 1:13:19.1; 14) Lathrop 1:20:28.2; 15) Bartlett 1:28:31.0.
Girls 5K freestyle (top 20)
1) Kramer, Kendall (WV) 13:50.5; 2) Druckenmiller, Maggie (WV) 14:27.6; 3) Proffitt, Adrianna (Chu) 14:29.4;l 4) Eski, Ivy (West) 14:32.5; 5) Witter, Tatum (Ser) 14:36.6; 6) Tobin, Garvee (Ser) 14:54.6; 7) Flora, Marit (Ser) 14:56.3; 8) Schwartz, Meredith (Ser) 15:05.3; 9) Legate, Sammy (West) 15:20.1; 10) Haas, Abigail (Lath)15:30.2; 11) Brubaker, Neena (Ser) 15:31.9; 12) Walsh, Emily (ER) 15:32.8; 13) Coniglio, Morgan (West) 15:33.2; 14) Whitaker, Maggie (WV) 15:40.3; 15) Young, Lucy (South) 15:55.2; 16) Nedom, Maria (West) 15:56.4; 17) Erickson, Emily (Dim) 16:03.1; 18) Personius, Hjelle (WV) 16:09.4; 19) Presler, Mallory (WV) 16:10.1; 20) Daigle, Autumn (Hom) 16:11.6.
Boys team scores
1) Service 1:11:59.2; 2) West Valley1:12:20.8; 3) West 1:14:22.6; 4) Chugiak 1:14:42.7; 5) Dimond 1:16:16.0; 6) Soldotna 1:18:48.7; 7) Palmer 1:19:08.2; 8) Lathrop 1:19:47.1; 9) South 1:20:15.3; 10) Colony 1:20:22.1; 11) Grace Christian 1:20:50.7; 12) East 1:23:56.9; 13) Kenai 1:25:59.8; 14) Eagle River 1:29:27.3.
Boys 7.5K freestyle (top 20)
1) Maurer, Alexander (Ser)17:08.3; 2) Difolco, Eric (WV) 17:23.1; 3) Earnhart, Michael (Chu) 17:38.6; 4) Hinds, Peter (Dim) 17:56.2; 5) Maves, Aaron (West) 18:05.0; 6) Walling, Joseph (Pal) 18:08.5; 7) Power, Aaron (Ser) 18:12.3; 8) Buth, Luke (WV) 18:14.2; 9) Power, Joel (Ser) 18:14.4; 10) Baurick, Josh (WV) 18:19.2; 11) Ulbrich, Hayden (Ser) 18:24.2; 12) Laker-Morris, Jordan (WV) 18:24.3; 13) Baurick, Dale (WV) 18:35.8; 14) Eggener, Mark (West) 18:40.5; 15) Walters, Bradley (Sol) 18:43.8; 16) Martin, Kelly (West) 18:46.8; 17) Blei, Porter (Chu) 18:47.5; 18) tie, Goltz, Noah (West) and Chisholm, Liam (West) 18:50.3; 20) Connelly, Michael (Chu) 18:56.1.