Los Alamos Sends Two Skiers To Cross-Country Ski Junior Nationals In Alaska 35 Years Apart!

Los Alamos XC skier, Mila Moseley during her skate technique sprint qualifier at Junior National Championships in Fairbanks, AK in March. Courtesy photo


It’s been quite a while since New Mexico has been able to send a representative to the Junior National Championships (JNs) in cross country skiing, but it finally occurred again this year.  The last time was in 1987, in fact, when Los Alamos’s own Matt Young was able to claim the distinction.  This year, it was Los Alamos High School freshman, Mila Moseley, who was able to slip into the top 13 in the Rocky Mountain Division for girls under 16 years old (U16), the magic number sent to JNs in each age group for the division.  

The Rocky Mountain Nordic Division (RMD) is just one of 10 different regions that sends a specified number of athletes, based on the total number of participants in the region.  The number of qualifiers generally correspond to National Championship fields of approximately 100 skiers in each of the age categories, which start at U16 for boys and girls, then U18 and U20, which are all considered “junior” division athletes.  Athletes older than that are considered senior division athletes and are generally vying for USA National Team Olympic and World Cup positions.  

At Junior National Championships, competitors go up against the top skiers from each region, comprising of competitors from the New England, Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, Midwest, High Plains, Rocky Mountain, Inter-Mountain, Far West, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska divisions.  This year’s Junior National Championships were held in Fairbanks, Alaska, from March 10-16.  Thirty five years earlier, Matt Young traveled to Anchorage, AK to compete (see newspaper clip in image below).  

There are some interesting parallels between the two Los Alamos cross-country skier athletes, and they shared some of the same experiences regarding the level and type of competition they encountered.  Matt Young was a runner for LAHS, as is Moseley.  They both had to balance their local LAHS team commitments with their cross-country ski training and competitions.  They both had to travel into Colorado and even northern Utah for all the Junior National Qualifier (JNQ) races, going up against the big budget and large teams such as Vail, Steamboat, Aspen, Summit County, and others from around Colorado. They both qualified for JNs the year they were held in Alaska.

This was Moseley’s first year in the U16 category, and she has one more year in the U16 group.  She found that the new age group was a quantum leap in competitive level and speed, especially since she had previously been crowned RM division series champion when she was a U12 competitor, then was second last year as a U14 competitor.  This year was a different story and she had to drastically change her approach after the first races of the season, held in Crested Butte in December.  The change in approach included a stronger focus on strength and speed training to be able to compete with the higher level she was to encounter during the rest of the season.  

U16 Nordic ski races range in distance from the sprint events, about 1.5 kms with multiple heats, to the distance events ranging from 5 kms to 7.5 kms, on very challenging terrain.  The sport requires all the elements of endurance, speed, strength, and power, as well as ski ability & agility, as the courses are designed to test athletes in each of those areas.  There are two different techniques in cross-country skiing, the old “classic” style (what most people imagine when they think of cross-country skiing), and the “freestyle,” or skate ski technique that came about and was added in the 1980s as a result of improved trail grooming and ski manufacturing and materials technology.

Moseley was on the bubble to qualify for JNs as she headed into the final two-day race weekend of the season-long qualifier series. The races were held at the Aspen Valley Ski Club venue, and she knew she had to ski at her best to secure that final 13th place spot. With a heightened focus, she was able to put together two very good results and was hopeful that she’d done enough to qualify. 

In the days following that final JNQ, the Rocky Mountain Division named its team headed to Fairbanks, with Moseley’s name and New Mexico’s second ever participant on the roster.  It was a mad scramble to get travel arrangements made, skis and poles prepared and packed, and a wide assortment of clothing, including face tape to protect against frostbite, together for the big trip.  Temperatures were forecast to be in the -40*F to a maximum +5*F range during the competitions.  Included with the complete JNs team, RMD sent select coaches, wax technicians, and administrators to oversee all team functions.

Competition at JNs in Fairbanks started with a 7.5km classic-technique race held in sub-zero temperatures.  In that event, Moseley’s specialty, she was able to place a solid 56th, despite missing her start time by about 10 seconds due to technical issues with having to wear thicker gloves that did not fit into her pole strap.  

While on paper, Moseley was 13th member of the U16 age group of the RMD team, in each of her races she rose above expectations placing 9th and 10th out of the RMD athletes. She earned a placing of 67th overall in the freestyle sprint, her weakest discipline, but rallied for a particularly gritty result of 56th place in the distance freestyle race which was on a very technical and difficult course that saw a lot of crashes and broken equipment.  All events were conducted in very frigid conditions, never topping more than 5*F.

Like Matt Young who raced all those years ago, Moseley noted that the speed and power of the racers who are not from altitude was at a much higher level than most of the racers in the RMD region, and that racing at low altitude was a very different experience in terms of demand on her muscles vs. her aerobic system. She plans to alter her training to focus more on speed, strength, and power to improve on her regular season results in hope that she qualifies for JNs again and can improve on those performances as well.  Moseley described the whole trip as an experience of a lifetime although a long time to go without the New Mexico food she loves. Next year’s Junior National Championships will be held at the 1980 Winter Olympics venue in Lake Placid, NY. 

Local athlete, Mila Moseley with the US Ski & Snowboard Association Rocky Mountain Nordic Division Junior National Championships select team in Fairbanks, AK in March. Find the bright New Mexico themed hat! Courtesy photo

Mila Moseley during the 7.5km “classic” race in Fairbanks, AK, March 13, face tape protecting her against frostbite. Courtesy photo

Frigid temperatures caused daily race start delays March 14 waiting for race legal temperatures. Race organizers provided blankets to put on the racers waiting for their start. Moseley waiting for her freestyle sprint qualifier start in pink blanket and orange hat in Fairbanks, AK . Courtesy photo

Albuquerque Journal article in 1987 covering Matt Young’s participation at Junior National Championships in Anchorage, Alaska. Courtesy photo