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Snow-starved CEC Nordic ski team hosts annual invitational in Duluth

Esko sophomore Matt Rengo skis for the Lumberjacks at the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Invitational at Spirit Mountain on Tuesday afternoon. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal and

Pulling his vehicle into Spirit Mountain full of skis, poles, signs and other necessities, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Nordic ski coach Les Martin looked like more than your average Tuesday morning skier.

"More like a gypsy," he said with a laugh. "You should see the back of my car."

It was a moment indicative of this year's cross country ski season.

Plagued by a dismal amount of snowfall, many Nordic teams have bounced around the region looking for man-made snow to use. Martin and his team are always prepared to ski anywhere a snowstorm hits.

"It's been a challenge, for sure," Martin said, "but I'm having fun."

Perchance the brightest moment for the busy Lumberjacks came Tuesday afternoon when they hosted their annual Cloquet Invitational race at Spirit Mountain.

Normally held at their home course at Pine Valley, CEC was forced to shift the race to Duluth's man-made course instead, as their home venue was far from prepared. With the sun shining and temperatures in the 40s, nine teams took part in the event which featured both boys and girls varsity, junior varsity and junior high events.

The third-year coach expressed his appreciation to the parents who helped with the day-long venture.

"There must have been 15 parents helping out, some even took the day off," Martin said. "I couldn't set this whole thing up myself, so I am thankful for everyone who helped out. Mainly, it was just nice to see them be able to get out here and watch their kids ski."

That's been uncommon this year.

With their hectic, ski-

anywhere practice schedule this winter, Martin said his squad has traveled north to Coleraine's Mount Itasca a handful of times already, while they skied at Spirit Mountain once earlier this year, too. All of their competitions have been on man-made snow.

"Not being on real snow isn't the same," Martin said. "We haven't had an event on real snow yet, or even been at our home course to practice. We've gotten everything in, surprisingly."

Carlton junior Duncan Fox said skiing on fake snow is generally more difficult compared to the real stuff.

"For the most part," said Fox, in his fifth year on the varsity this winter. "Today it was really warm, so the snow was really mushy, which made things difficult at times. But it was nice of [Spirit Mountain] to let us tear up their hill like that today."

Martin noted that Tuesday's roughly estimated 3,600-meter course construction looped around four times and even crossed paths with the downhill trek where skiers were halted by parents when the Invitational was in action.

Esko junior Molly Meysembourg led the CEC girls in 23rd place, individually. Aiding the girls' fourth-place team finish was Esko junior Korbyn Danielson (31st), Esko freshman Hannah Erickson (34th) and Cloquet senior Alyssa Michaelson (38th).

Fox paced the CEC boys finishing 18th, individually, while solid performances by Cloquet freshman Nolan Ripp (28th), Esko sophomore Matt Rengo (29th) and Cloquet sophomore Josh Carlson (39th) helped the Lumberjacks claim seventh place overall.

Martin noted Duluth East won both varsity races, while Ely finished runners-up.

"We're usually after those two," said Martin of the pair of Nordic skiing powerhouses. "Grand Rapids has a good team, too. After that, it's a usually a dog fight between the rest."

Places aside, Martin's skiers were just happy to get on some trails Tuesday.

"I've never been a part of a season with weather this bad. We're definitely praying for some snow," said Meysembourg. "[Tuesday] was even better weather for spectating than skiing it was so warm. But at least we got to have the race. That's the main thing."

Still, they're keeping their fingers crossed for winter weather.

"I am always looking at the weather forecast for snow," said Fox, with a laugh. "We're used to skiing in lots of conditions, but this year, it's felt like one condition. The season hasn't been difficult; I would say more like annoying."

Martin hopes they'll get to ski at Cloquet's Pine Valley before season's end.

"It'd be nice on our home course, for once," he said with a laugh. "But it was absolutely beautiful out today. This was so nice of Spirit Mountain to do this for us. If it wasn't for Spirit, we wouldn't be skiing at all, really. It's not real snow, but I think everyone had a good time."

Ryan Zimny's CEC alpine ski team has had far less schedule changes than the Nordic skiers.

"It doesn't affect us as much," Zimny said of the lack of snowfall, noting they have skied at Lutsen and Giant's Ridge. "Overall, the kids are skiing pretty well."

Zimny said his team competed at Giants Ridge last Thursday. Despite missing their top skiers in Esko sophomores Alex DeRocher and Paige Tranah, Zimny said he was pleased with his skiers.

Earlier in the season, Zimny noted top boys contributors this winter include DeRocher, along with fellow Esko sophomore Sam Sinnott and Cloquet juniors Isaac MacMillan and Jack Fossen. Following Tranah for the girls are Esko freshman Sarah Severson, Cloquet sophomore Kaitlyn Knutson and Cloquet freshman Carly Boder.

"Almost everybody has stood two good runs," Zimny said. "We have conferences coming up. It's hard to say what will happen, but if you put together two solid runs, it's anybody's race."

The Lake Superior Conference alpine meet will take place at Mont du Lac Thursday at 4 p.m. The Nordic team will have its LSC meet Feb. 3 at Pincushion Trail on the North Shore - weather permitting, of course.