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U12 & U14 Nordic Athletes Excel at 2021 Western Youth Championships

by Coach Jessie Kay

Eleven U12 and U14 athletes represented BSF at the 2021 Western Youth Championships in Jackson, WY. Although some aspects of the event were considerably different from "normal" years due to COVID safety measures, the energy our athletes brought to the races made this one for the books.

Photos by Molly Bowman

Our costume theme this year was the "Gnarly Narwhals" in honor of our team's unofficial mascot, Nellie the Narwhal. We created narwhal crowns and mustered all of our magical "gnar-whal" energy to tackle the classic, skate, and NordiX events.

Our athletes raced with grit and tenacity. Coaches were so proud to see how hard athletes pushed themselves up over the challenging climbs and charged the downhills (even a mandatory air in the NordiX course)!

For many of our athletes, this was the final event of the season, and we used the races as a testament of our strength as a team and celebration of all of the work we've put into growing ourselves as skiers. The energy at the U14 girls event was especially palpable — we danced before the start and pumped each other up while waiting in the start gate. Coaches even overheard one BSF athlete talking to event volunteers in the start gate: "The sun is shining, my friends are with me, this is great. I'm so happy to be here."

As a coach, the Youth Champs are always the highlight of my season. I've watched some of our U14 athletes race at the Youth Champs for nearly six seasons, and it's incredibly humbling to be a part of their journey of growing as athletes and as individuals. I was surprised by my own emotions cheering the U14s on their final climb in the skate race, knowing that for some athletes, this is the final time they'll participate in this event.

As many athletes move on to new race opportunities on the IMD and national circuit in the next few years, my greatest hope is that they will carry the lessons they've learned from racing at the Youth Champs. Ski racing can be incredibly confronting, vulnerable, and sometimes unforgiving, but when we learn to lean on each other and keep our focus on the big picture, so much more is possible. And a healthy dose of glitter, a silly costume, and a quick dance party sure doesn't hurt either!

Jessie Kay is the Head Nordic Development Coach for the Bridger Ski Foundation.

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