With some nations opting out, Alaska skiers plan to stay in Europe for World Cup races

Alaska’s World Cup cross-country skiers intend to keep racing in Europe even though some of the sport’s powerhouse teams have pulled out of races until at least the end of the year.

Norway, Sweden and Finland are skipping World Cup races this month in Switzerland and Germany due to concerns about COVID-19 in the wake of season-opening races in Finland last week.

Skiers from Alaska and the rest of the United States on Monday traveled from Finland to Davos, Switzerland, where they are preparing for races there on Dec. 12-13, said Erik Flora, the coach of the Alaska Pacific University nordic team.

“The athletes I spoke with said that the US Team’s management was reasonable,” Flora said Wednesday by text. “I think it is crucial that they are safe and responsible.”

Five athletes from APU, one from UAA, one from the Alaska Winter Stars and one who trains with a team based in Vermont were among hundreds of skiers who were in Kuusamo, Finland, last week for the Ruka Triple, a three-race series in Kuusamo, Finland, that marked the start of the 2020-21.

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Absent from the field was Canada, which decided to keep its athletes home amid the pandemic. Earlier this week, Canada canceled all FIS-sanctioned domestic races for the season.

The season’s second weekend of racing was supposed to happen this week in Lillehammer, Norway, but Norwegian ski officials canceled those races last month because of COVID-19 concerns, leaving a one-week gap in the schedule.

Norway said Tuesday it will skip the rest of the month’s World Cup races and might also sit out the Tour de Ski, scheduled to begin Jan. 1. Sweden and Finland followed with similar announcements Wednesday.

“We have experienced that keeping distance and avoiding close contact in the World Cup arena is more demanding than we first assumed,” Norway team manager Espen Bjervig said in a statement reported by Reuters.

Norway and Sweden dominated the podium last week in Finland, with Norway winning five of the six races and eight of the 18 medals and Sweden winning one race and six medals. The other four medals went to Russia.

Flora said the American athletes are in a different situation than the Scandinavians, who have the added potential risk of bringing the virus home with them between races.

“After the race in Finland, the Scandinavians go home, whereas the US athletes travel to the next country,” Flora said.

[Solid results for Brennan, Swirbul and Schoonmaker as Alaska skiers return to the World Cup]

Alaskans training in Switzerland include Rosie Brennan, Hailey Swirbul, Scott Patterson, Logan Hanneman and Tyler Kornfield of APU, Gus Schumacher of the Alaska Winter Stars, JC Schoonmaker of UAA and Caitlin Patterson of Vermont’s Craftsbury Nordic Ski Club.

Hannah Halvorsen of APU is set to join the Americans later this week in Davos.

David Norris, another APU skier and one of the top American men last season, is missing the first period of World Cup racing after testing positive for COVID-19 last month, Flora said.

“David is taking a period to build back after COVID,” he said.

Beth Bragg

Beth Bragg wrote about sports and other topics for the ADN for more than 35 years, much of it as sports editor. She retired in October 2021. She's contributing coverage of Alaskans involved in the 2022 Winter Olympics.