Holmes Finishes Season SuperTour Leader
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
“I wouldn’t trade skiing for APU (Alaska Pacific University) and being based in Girdwood for anything. It makes me who I am, and it makes the successes I’ve had completely possible. It’s absolutely the foundation of everything I do.”
– Nordic Skier Chelsea Holmes
Chelsea Holmes finished her Nordic ski season as overall SuperTour leader, which earned her U.S. team start rights in next season’s World Cup.
The U.S. Cross Country Championship was recently held in Fairbanks and is the season’s final race. Entering competition, Holmes was third in points among women SuperTour leaders. Her weekend goal was to earn the overall title, which is a huge accomplishment. To reach her goal, Holmes needed to perform very well in all of her races, even if she did not place first in any of them.
“Before the beginning of the week,” Holmes said, “I think I was third but I knew I was close to the lead. By the start of the 30K, I had taken over the lead. For me, that was a huge motivating factor. I really wanted to have those World Cup start spots. The World Cup is a whole other level. It’s the highest level of competition. It’s also going into the Olympic season.”
Holmes was born and raised in Girdwood and spends May through November there. Her winters are on the road and she is intermittently in Canada with her husband. She has been with the APU Nordic ski team for three years, which trains on Eagle Glacier above Girdwood during the summer.
Recognizing distance races as her strength, Holmes acknowledges sprint races are not her forte. She finished 8th in the 1.4K. She was also on the APU club team that finished 3rd place in the 20K relay where four skiers complete 5K.
Holmes finished fourth in the Skiatholon by one second, which is skied using two disciplines.The first is 7.5K classic Nordic, while the second is 7.5K skate skis. At the race’s half-way point, skiers don’t switch boots but change skis and poles instead.
Her best finish was 3rd in 30K Freestyle Mass start, which is her specialty. She truly enjoys the hard work of grinding it out on climbs.
“It was a really fun race. It’s the last race of the year. While you still have a lot of competitive spirit in you. You are inspired to race, but you know at the end of the race you get a break.”
Because it was the final race of the season, being mentally prepared was key to her success. A competitive season takes its toll on mind and body, especially at the end when a well-deserved break is near. Holmes said she felt fit but lightly fatigued from the season’s rigors. Keeping her goal in mind, she motivated herself and pushed through the tiredness.
“The courses were pretty ideal for me,” Holmes said. “I love skating. I love 30K. I was excited about it.”
The courses in Fairbanks were challenging, with a lot of climbing combined with technical downhill sections. The quietly competitive Holmes loves mass starts because they inspire and push her to fight through the race. She said that after 10K, the main pack broke up and five skiers emerged in the lead.
APU teammate, Jessica Diggins flew into the lead, leaving Holmes and APU’s Kikkan Randall to race together for 2nd and 3rd. Diggins finished 1st, while Randall came in 2nd after pulling away from Holmes in a final sprint. Holmes said she enjoys competing with her highly skilled teammates, particularly Randall and her reputation as a sprinter.
“For me it was really fun,” Holmes said. “I train with her [Randall] in the summer. I know how she skis. She’s a fantastic skier. We share some strengths, and we have our own individual strengths. To be able to ski together and work together for that race really helped. I could definitely feel I was just tired from the season.”
Skiing ahead of the pack allowed Holmes and Randall to work together throughout the race. Holmes said it was helpful skiing with Randall because she is easy to ski behind and is familiar with her technique.
Holmes and Randall switched places during the race to play to each other’s respective strengths. For Holmes, that is pushing over the top of climbs and working through gradual grinding sections of uphill climbs.
“For me,” Holmes said,“some of the more aggressive, steeper climbing is really easy. I put my head down and fight it out. By trading off leads between the two of us, we were able to keep the pace decent. You always want to win a race, but I knew if I stayed in third, the overall start spot would be mine.”
Holmes enjoys the camaraderie of training and competing with APU teammates. Although Nordic skiing is an individual sport, much of it is team based, and members spend a lot of time together throughout the season.
“Whether you’re in training and pushing hard in the summer in an interval set and you’re feeling like you’re having trouble surviving,” Holmes said,“your teammates are helping to push you there. Racing with a teammate is always fun. There is competitiveness, and there is also friendliness. That feeling is something I really cherish.”
Now Holmes’ goals are to do well in November and December World Cup action, claiming one of the few U.S. Olympic Nordic Ski Team spots at PyeongChang, Korea in 2018. Holmes’ training and efforts throughout the season have led to her most successful season yet.
“I probably trained harder than I ever did last year,” Holmes said. “There were some points where I wondered if the season was going to be a total bust. It’s finding that balance of training hard and also figuring out when to stop and take a break. It’s about having a great team, an incredible coach and an incredible program. I couldn’t be happier to be back in Alaska.”