It was the feel-good story of the local ski year.
No, not the blizzard last week that has all our areas open for business for the holidays.
(But that is a good one.)
Instead, it was tiny Mayfield, led by state champion Madison Relyea, winning the Section II girls’ cross country championship last February, beating a field of rivals from schools with much larger enrollments. Remember the film about the small school in Indiana beating all the bigs to win the state basketball championship?
Think of Mayfield as “Hoosiers” on snow.
Well, we now have snow again and Relyea is back for her senior year. She and her Panther teammates will be strong favorites in every meet. But while skiing is among the handful of high school sports in the state that have been cleared to compete this winter, as of right now, championship events in all sports have been canceled. The focus will be limited to Section II rivals only.
And since skiing is a sport for all comers, schools of every size compete in one division.
Bragging rights don’t come with a qualifier.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, skiers just began team practice last week. There will be seven Section II Nordic ski meets starting later this month and continuing into early February.
The format of the races will be carefully staged.
- No mass start competitions.
- Team members will race together on shorter courses with individual starts every 30 seconds.
- Teams will seed their starters to minimize possible on-course passing.
There will be both classic and skate style races this season. The first race will be a 5K skate event Dec. 30 at Brookhaven Golf Course in Greenfield.
RELYEA THE FAVORITE TO REPEAT
Relyea, a standout cross country runner in the fall, is the overwhelming favorite to win individual honors in all her races this winter. A year ago, she won every Section II race she entered by almost a minute — and usually more.
The total placement of the top-three finishers from each school determines the team title in events, and Relyea will again be joined by Fianna Halloran, Tatjana Bjelica, and Delaney LaFontaine, all top 10 finishers for the Panthers in the area championships last season.
Other strong racers to watch this season will be Hadley-Luzerne junior Katrin Schreiner, whose dad Curt was a three-time US Olympian in biathlon, Johnsburg junior Avery Bayse, and veteran Queensbury competitors Raina Guay, a junior, and Annalise Beyerbach, a senior.
For the boys, perennial powerhouse Queensbury is looking strong once again led by last year’s area champion Lucas Jenkin, who is now a senior. His younger brother, Ben Jenkin, a freshman, and junior Sam Rowley were state meet qualifiers a year ago, and give the team a very strong core this winter. Others expected to contend for individual honors this season include Shenendehowa’s Phil Mathews and Clayton Schmale from Johnsburg.
THE OUTLOOK FOR ALPINE
The Alpine competition will be interesting. Miceala Leonard, a junior from Shenendehowa, is the area’s defending giant slalom champion and finished third overall in the state championships. A pair of Ballston Spa racers were close behind, Claire Felton and Sara Phelps, both seniors this year. If pedigree counts, Queensbury’s Meredith Montgomery should be in the mix; last winter, as a freshman, she was a top-10 area racer and competed in the state championships, while sister Madie and brother Hunter, both now in college, won Section II and state championships in recent years.
The returning field on the girls’ side is strong, but all eyes are on Saratoga Springs senior Avery Waters, who has not competed in Section II up until now. Instead, she has spent winters in school and training with the NYSEF program in Lake Placid where the racing competition is more focused.
In the boys’ events, Saratoga Springs looks to have an edge in the team competition with defending area slalom champion Matt Moeckel and giant slalom runner-up Tyler Munter back for their senior seasons. Junior Matt Rodriguez rounds out a solid top-three race team.
Other top contenders are Shenendehowa junior Braden Kruk, Will Fraser of Albany Academy, Colin Cotter from Johnstown, and another Montgomery sibling from Queensbury in freshman Hudson.
Unlike in past years, the boys’ and girls’ races will be held on different dates. The current schedule calls for the first girls’ race, two giant slalom runs, on Jan. 13 at West Mountain. The first competition for boys will be two giant slalom runs scheduled for Gore on Jan. 18.
This is shaping up as a tough holiday period for some who were planning on skiing. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, and many areas reporting a record number of season-pass holders who have access preference, people who have recently decided to ski over the holidays are finding that there are no lift tickets available at some areas, with sales already cut off due to capacity limitations.
For instance, there are no day tickets available for skiing Gore during the always-popular week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. People without reservations are out of luck.
If you have a day of sliding in mind, make sure to make contact with your destination well ahead of time to check availability. Know before you go!
NEW GORE LIFTS SPINNING
The new Sunway lift that expands access to novice terrain at Gore opened last weekend and The High Peaks quad that takes advanced skiers to the top of the mountain is expected to begin operations this week.
WOMEN’S NORDIC COMBINED OPEN WITH GOLD
Congratulations to Tara Geraghty-Moats, from West Fairlee, Vermont, who last week in Austria won the first-ever women’s Nordic Combined World Cup event.
Nordic Combined, which brings together ski jumping and cross country ski competition, earned attention in our area when Saranac Lake’s Bill Demong won an individual gold medal and anchored the gold medal relay team at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2012.
Now there is also women’s international competition in the event, and a push to include it in the 2026 Winter Olympics.
Best Christmas wishes to all. Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected]