As Alaska celebrates the 10 cross-country skiers it's sending to the fast-approaching Winter Olympics, some of the state's younger skiers are serving notice that the future could be every bit as bright.
UAA sophomore Hailey Swirbul made history Tuesday at the World Junior Championships in Goms, Switzerland.
Swirbul claimed the silver medal in the women's 5-kilometer classic race, the best American finish in history at the competition for skiers under the age of 20.
"Today's result is surreal for me," Swirbul said in a release from UAA. "My goal for this week was to earn a top-10 finish, and a second place was more than I could have imagined.
"The course played to my strengths. There was a lot of striding and less double-poling than the courses we typically find in the U.S., which I was happy to find. The wax techs gave me amazing skis today … gliding and kicking very well."
It's the second year in a row that Swirbul, a 19-year-old from El Jebel, Colorado, has collected a medal at the World Juniors. A year ago, she was a member of the United States' bronze-medal women's relay team.
Swirbul is one of 10 Alaska skiers among the 21 named to the teams competing this week in Switzerland. Eight of the 12 U.S. skiers at the World Juniors are from here, as are two of the nine U.S. skiers at the U-23 Championships for skier under 23 are from here.
Three other Alaskans joined Swirbul in the top 25 Tuesday.
Gus Schumacher placed 17th and Hunter Wonders was 22nd in the men's 10K and Hannah Halvorsen was 22nd in the women's 5K. Canyon Tobin, the only other Alaskan who raced Tuesday, was 37th in the men's race.
Schumacher, an Alaska Winter Stars and Service High skier, was the second American in the men's race, behind seventh-place Ben Ogden of Vermont.
He had set his sights high for Tuesday's race, the same event in which he racked up an impressive sixth-place finish while racing against senior-level skiers at the U.S. Cross Country Championships earlier this month at Kincaid Park.
"My specific goals for today were to stay relaxed through the whole race, push as hard as I could, and to get top 10," Schumacher, 17, said by email. "I'm fairly satisfied with my result. I think it was solid, but I know that I can do better and that kind of hurts me. I just didn't feel like I had the spark that I normally have towards the end of a race like this."
Schumacher said he skied well on the first lap of the two-lap race, "but somewhere on the second lap I must've pushed just a little too hard and gone over my threshold, because I really faltered in the middle of that one on the big sprint hill," he said.
Swirbul got stronger in the second half of the women's race. She was in fifth place after 2.5 kilometers and passed three skiers in the final 2.5 kilometers to grab second place.
She finished 14.4 seconds behind Polina Nekrasova of Russia, who won in 13 minutes, 58.7 seconds. Swirbul was 11 seconds in front of the bronze-medalist from Finland.
"Hailey skied tactically really well," U.S. coach Bryan Fish said in a release from the U.S. Ski Team.
Until Tuesday, the best American finishes at the World Juniors were two bronze medals from last year. Katharine Ogden of Vermont placed third in the skiathon, and then teamed up with Swirbul, Halvorsen and Julia Kern of Massachusetts to take third place in the relay.
Swirbul's silver equals the best result by an American at either of her sport's top two age-group competitions. At the 2014 U-23 Championships, Minnesota's Jessie Diggins — a medal contender heading into South Korea — won a silver medal.
Halvorsen, a member of the Alaska Pacific University ski center, was Alaska's top finisher in Sunday's freestyle sprint race in Switzerland.
She placed eighth in the women's competition and was one of three Alaskans who made it to the quarterfinals. Molly Gellert of Alaska Winter Stars and West High placed 18th in the women's sprint and Schumacher was 19th in the men's sprint.
Hannah Rudd, another UAA skier, placed 35th in the sprint preliminaries, five spots away from advancing to the heats. In the men's race, Tobin was 41st and Luke Jager 60th.
In the U-23 sprint on Sunday, Lydia Blanchet just missed the heats by placing 32nd in the qualifier. Thomas O'Harra was 64th in men's qualifying.
U-23 skiers compete in their first distance race Wednesday.