From China to Europe to Vermont, Alaska nordic skiers are making an impact

Alaska skiers are leaving tracks all over the planet.

In Vermont, they have collected gold (Caitlin Patterson), silver (Jessica Yeaton) and two bronzes (Logan Hanneman, Hannah Halvorsen) at the U.S. National Championships, which continue with more racing Sunday and Tuesday.

In Europe, Sadie Bjornsen of Anchorage bowed out of the Tour de Ski after three races — two in Italy, one in Switzerland — in 11th place overall, although she will slip in the standings as others continue to ski in the arduous seven-race series that ends Sunday.

In China, Fairbanks-raised and Anchorage-based Reese Hanneman — Logan’s brother — is probably wondering how far 6,000 renminbi will go once he gets back home. That’s how much he won for capturing second place in one of two races that made up this year’s Tour de China.

Hanneman’s prize money for placing second in the men’s freestyle sprint last week in Luneng Shengdi translates to a little less than $900. For a self-supported skier like Hanneman — he was an Olympic skier a year ago and decided to take a less conventional path this season, which is how he wound up in China — $900 will be useful when it comes to paying travel expenses.

Hanneman, who trains with the Alaska Pacific University nordic program, followed his sprint performance by placing seventh in the Tour’s 50-kilometer classic race Friday in Changchun. He finished in 2 hours, 23 minutes, 40.8 seconds, trailing winner Qiang Wang of China by 13.8 seconds. Wang won both races to top the overall standings; Hanneman placed second.

“It’s been so cool to see so many Chinese people and kids out skiing!” Hanneman said by email. “The 50k Vasaloppet China was my first time racing against some of the professional marathon teams, and it was cool to see this level. I was pretty happy with my result in that one, considering it was also the first time I’ve double-poled a 50k."

Bjornsen is also an APU skier, and she is having another strong World Cup season. She placed sixth overall with four podium finishes last season and ranks 10th with one top-three finish this season, which continues through March.

Bjornsen said she planned to race five of the Tour de Ski’s seven races but dropped out after three in order to make the most of a training block before February’s World Championships in Austria.

She posted the fastest preliminary time and went on to finish sixth in the finals in last week’s Tour de Ski freestyle sprint in Toblach, Italy, where she also placed 16th in the 10K freestyle. She followed the tour to Val Muestair, Switzerland, where she was the sixth-fastest qualifier and 13th-place finisher in another freestyle sprint.

“It’s one of the hardest things in the world to drop from the Tour, because it’s my favorite racing of the season, but I have big goals ahead in February,” Bjornsen said by email.

Bjornsen is the only Alaska woman in Europe right now, but she’ll have company soon.

Halvorsen, who earned her bronze medal at the national championships in Friday’s classic sprint race, will make her World Cup debut later this month in Dresden, Germany. She and APU teammate Hailey Swirbul are both headed to Dresden at the end of the championships.

Yeaton, another APU skier, will head to Europe in about a month to race for Australia’s World Cup and World Championship teams. Yeaton is a South High graduate who has lived in Anchorage much of her life, but she has dual citizenship.

Another APU skier who is likely to race at the World Championships is Rosie Brennan, a 2018 Olympian who later lost her spot on the U.S. Ski Team when her results went south last season as she battled mononucleosis. Skiing without financial support from the national team, she had a terrific start to the World Cup season with three top-15 finishes, including a career-best sixth-place finish in a 10K classic in Switzerland last month.

Brennan ranks 22nd in the world, and although she is back in the United States now, she has a solid shot at making the U.S. team — and gaining some financial support — for the world championships.

Caitlin Patterson, who is from Anchorage and trains with the Craftbury Green Racing Project in Vermont, is another top contender for the world championships. First, though, she’ll chase another national championship on her home trails Sunday in the women’s mass-start 20K in Craftsbury, Vermont.

A handful of Alaska’s junior racers in Craftsbury are eyeing spots on the World Junior and U23 championship teams, which will compete later this month in Finland. Leading the way among that group is Kendall Kramer, a Fairbanks high school junior who trains with FXC. She was the top under-18 skier in both races so far at the national championships.