The first internationally-ranked Nordic race of the season, the Frozen Thunder event in late October in Alberta, is held on early-season limited snow terrain. But ironically, this is one of the historically most competitive North American races of the season. And within this year's group of speedy international skiers, prospective U.S. Ski Team competitor and Bend local Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess placed solidly at the front pack.
"Frozen Thunder is really the first chance for all of us to test ourselves and our training in a race environment, so I'm encouraged by the results were seeing racing against not just the best in the U.S., but some of the best in the world," says von Jess.
Canmore's Nordic venue stockpiles snow for the season opener, and although just a short loop of thin snow, it makes for a competitive two-kilometer fast track, says Bend Endurance Academy coach, Ben Husaby.
"Early season, all that's needed is a strip of snow," says Husaby. "The 2K loop is pretty impressive. And it's the best skiers competing, by and large the best sprinters."
Falling just behind U.S. Ski Team member Andy Newell in his final sprint at the finish line, von Jess, a Bend Endurance Academy athlete, won his qualifier, quarter final and semi-final sprints. The FIS (International Ski Federation) World Championships are held this February in Falun, Sweden, and von Jess plans to be there.
"These are the first few opportunities he gets to race against the best internationally and he's on the cusp of making that jump—it's hard to get named when you race the best," says Husaby.
After a strong season last winter, which included falling just shy of being named to the U.S. Ski Team, von Jess and longtime coach Husaby have readjusted training and are looking to secure a spot on the team. Last year, von Jess won Frozen Thunder.
The Bend Endurance Academy is a nonprofit organization that organizes and operates programs to promote health and wellness throughout Central Oregon—and beyond—via cycling, Nordic skiing and climbing. "The focus is on endurance sports, we have a terrific staff, and it's primarily to get kids outside," says Husaby.