J essica Jortberg, the current national champion for her age group in sprint biathlon, learned how to fire a rifle just three days before the big race.
“I had never raced a biathlon race before, so I didn’t really know what to expect going into it,” said Jortberg, a senior at Boulder High School. “I knew I could ski fast, but I wasn’t sure about the shooting.”
Jortberg did ski fast, and despite only hitting two of 10 targets, she won the race. Fellow Boulder High students Kelsey Phinney and Garrett Geer also skied fast. The girls won their sprint events, and Geer was the top U.S. sprint finisher in his category at the North American Biathlon Championships earlier this month in Fort Kent, Maine.
It was another feather in the cap of the Boulder Nordic Junior Racing Team, which had four kids finish in the top 10 in the junior national championships. The team also had two racers (Jortberg and Mike Vigers) qualify for the uber-elite Scando Cup in Finland, a U.S. Ski Team trip for the top six boys and girls ages 16 to 17 in the country.
As a result of the team’s breadth and depth this season, Boulder High ranked seventh nationally in the Roger Weston Award, which tabulates results for skiers whether or not a high school has a Nordic team.
“I think the only schools that beat us this year were from ski academies and Anchorage,” said head coach Eric Pepper, adding that Anchorage’s schools have notoriously good Nordic racing programs.
Phinney, a sophomore at Boulder High (and daughter of Olympians Connie Carpenter and Davis Phinney), said that unless the conditions are right for in-town skiing at North Boulder Park, team members drive up the canyon to train five days a week.
“Because we have to commit to it and we have a longer commute, you have to like it,” Phinney said.
Pepper echoed that challenge.
“To be on our team is difficult, I think, compared to if you come from a mountain town,” he said. “They make a choice to do something where they’re not well-recognized at school, and they travel to Eldora five or six days a week. And, it’s a year-round thing for these kids. They get some time off in April, but come May 1, they’re back at it.”
Toni Geer, president of the team and the mother of two racers, Wesley and Garrett, said the coaches are great at helping the kids find individual success, whatever that means for each kid.
“They provide the right racing opportunities throughout the year,” she said. “That’s with the older kids, and with the younger kids, they know how to organize them so it’s fun. They like to ski.”
Jortberg and Phinney said the team members are great at supporting one another. When she and Vigers qualified for the Scando Cup, Jortberg said, “the team was right in there. I’ve never seen everyone so excited, even the little kids.”
“We ended up bringing them Finnish candy,” she added.
Jortberg is graduating (and trying to choose her next step), but other strong skiers will be around for next season. This summer, Garrett Geer (who has only been Nordic skiing for two years) said he’ll be training with the team, of course, and hopefully working on his shooting for biathlon.
“We’re looking into leasing rifles.”