APU’s Swirbul and Anchorage’s Jager add to their national cross-country ski championship totals

APU skier Hailey Swirbul prides herself on being adaptable.

The APU Nordic Center skier proved she has plenty of versatility this week at the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships in Houghton, Michigan.

On Saturday, Swirbul won her fourth national championship of the week, taking the freestyle sprint race in a time of 2:43.99. It was the fourth race she won this week.

On Friday, she won the mass start classic 20K in a time of 59:20.4.

On Monday, the UAA graduate won the 10K freestyle interval race, and on Wednesday, she took the title in the classic ski sprint race.

“That’s one thing that being a skier really teaches you well for skiing and beyond — is how to adapt to different situations that are thrown at you,” she said. “I think that the trails here really suit my strengths. They’re quite gradual and have long sustained climbs with long gradual downhills in between and some flat sections.”

Swirbul was a member of the U.S. Olympic team last year and said her recent experience in major events has helped her outlook.


“I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this week, because things don’t always go to plan before big events like this sometimes,” she said. “I kind of just went in with an open mind and ready to fight and leave it all out there. And I was really lucky to have such a great team behind me through it.”

In Friday’s classic race, she edged out University of Utah skier Sydney Palmer-Leger by less than half a second and another Utah skier, Novie McCabe, placed third. UAF’s Kendall Kramer placed eighth, and UAA’s Astrid Stav finished 18th.

Swirbul said the camaraderie of a U.S. event was something she has come to appreciate even more after competing internationally.

“Having the experiences being in Europe and beyond at big events or even at a World Cup event, more than anything helped me to really appreciate skiing in the United States and really appreciate the community and the environment,” she said.

It wasn’t her first time dominating at the Michigan Tech trails. She also won three events in 2020 when the nationals were held there.

“We have a good thing going, me and Houghton,” she joked.

On Wednesday, Luke Jager joked that it was odd to be a U.S. national champion despite being third on the podium to a pair of Norwegian skiers. On Friday, Anchorage native Jager got both a gold medal and a national title.

A University of Utah skier, Jager won the mass start classic 20K on Friday, finishing on top of a podium of Alaska skiers.

Jager edged Fairbanks native David Norris, who is skiing and coaching for the Steamboat Springs (Colorado) Winter Sports team. Anchorage’s Zanden McMullen, who is also an APU skier, finished third.

“Obviously, crossing the line first is a lot more satisfying,” Jager said.

[Earlier this week: APU’s Hailey Swirbul, Anchorage’s Luke Jager win national cross-country skiing titles]

Jager, like Swirbul, has worked on diversifying his abilities as a skier. That distance work he’s put in showed Friday.

“Developing my distance skiing has been a really big goal of mine for the last for the last couple years and make sure I’m more well rounded,” he said. “I was really happy just because it’s something I’ve worked on a lot.”

It was a race that included some surprises. A second-lap crash took down Andreas Kirkeng, one of the strongest contenders, as well as others.

“The whole goal was to kind of stay out of trouble and you know, stay on my feet not break any equipment,” Jager said. “I tried to stay connected to the front but try not to do too much leading or do too much work to be there at the finish for the sprint.”

That strategy worked in a race where there was plenty of familiarity at the top among the Alaska contingent: APU’s Garrett Butts (10th) and Michael Earnhart (12th) also had high finishes.

“We’ve done it so many times, and kind of like everyone kind of knew what to expect from one another,” he said. “That was pretty sweet. I mean, Alaska is the best place in the country to be a skier. So there’s some days it all works out for us.”


On Saturday, Jager finished second in the freestyle sprint behind Norway’s Kristoffer All Karsrud. But as the top American, he was awarded the U.S. championship. Anchorage’s Thomas O’Harra, racing for APU, placed sixth and was the third-fastest American.

The junior women freestyle sprint race Saturday featured a trio of Alaskans with top finishes. Alaska Winter Stars skier Sammy Legate won the event with a time of 2:55.28. APU’s Marit Flora, a former Service standout, finished fourth, while Fairbanks skier Abigail Haas competing for UAF placed fifth.

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.