RUMFORD — The sun occasionally peaked through the clouds and light snow at Black Mountain for Day 2 of the 2011 U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships.

Yet Sadie Bjornsen was, in some ways, skiing in the dark.

Bjornsen didn’t expect to reach the podium for the women’s 10K classic, but found the conditions and altered course to her liking and won the event Wednesday in 32:09.90, 31 seconds ahead of teammate and roommate Morgan Smyth. Olympian Morgan Arritola finished third in 32:58.5.

Lars Flora, like Bjornsen a member of the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center, took gold in the men’s 15K classic, winning in 43:29.1, 18.4 seconds ahead of teammate James Southam.

In Sunday’s sprints, Bjornsen, of Anchorage, finished third behind another APUNSC skier, Holly Brooks and Smyth. She didn’t expect as strong a performance in the distance events, but when the recent rain and warm temperatures forced race organizers to postpone Tuesday’s races for one day and shorten the course to a 2.5K loop, she thought it might work to her advantage.

“I really liked how a big portion of it was the same as the sprint (course) because I’ve skied it hard so many times,” Bjornsen said. “So I kind of got into a sprint groove, which is good.”

Volunteers shoveled snow onto the course on Monday and Tuesday and piles of man-made snow had to be moved with a bucket loader and dump truck to get it ready for Wednesday’s competition.

“I like this kind of skiing because you really have to work to get a kick,” Bjornsen said. “I think people who struggle to pound on their skis can have a hard time, but our coaches have awesome wax.”

Bjornsen didn’t know exactly what wax they used. In fact, she had no idea what to expect from her skis going into the event.

“These are new skis. I didn’t even test them before I went,” she said.

Smyth, of Park City, UT, joined the APU program last year and seemed less surprised than Bjornsen with the outcome.

“It’s really awesome. You couldn’t have picked a better person to win, and to be up there together (on the podium) was awesome,” she said.

Like many competitors, Smyth admitted finding the short course both enticing and punishing. Skiers had to make four laps on the course to complete the race.

“For me, the short loops kind of made it seem like a shorter race than it really was,” she said. “I went out pretty hard and I was definitely just trying to hang on at the end.”

Flora, whose father, Erik, is the director of APUNSC, kept a steady pace throughout his race, posting the best time in all six of his laps. Yet, he struggled toward the end because there weren’t many hills to help conserve his energy, he said.

“Lap 3 and 4 I kept telling myself to relax so I could try to go faster on the fifth and sixth,” he said. “It was actually just survival. That last lap, I was struggling big time just to get up the hill.”

“The conditions made it extremely hard,” he added. “It’s really sugary snow. The course was flatter than we’re used to due to the snow conditions. You just had to really stay on it, make sure you didn’t slip too much when you kicked.”

David Norris of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks finished third to prevent another APU podium sweep. U.S. Olympian Torrin Koos of Leavenworth, WA, the winner of Sunday’s sprint, finished sixth.

“I could hardly see the tracks the last two laps,” he said. “I was was on a little pain train, but I tried to ski through it. It was a tough course. Some of it was kind of rolling, but it was unrelenting.”

Welly Ramsey of New Sharon had the best time among male Maine skiers, finishing 41st with a time of 46:51.3. Lucy Garrec of Freeport was the top Maine woman with a 22nd-place finish in 35:16.20.

Sara Parks won the women’s adaptive 10K in 47:58, while Sean Halsted won the men’s adaptive 15K in 56:32.

The championships resume Thursday with the men’s 30K and women’s 20K.

Click here to see more photos of the championships.


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