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Skiers race under the lights of Pine Valley

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Someone on the Nordic ski team must have done a snow dance over the weekend, because Cloquet got several inches of new powder before Tuesday’s home meet at Pine Valley.

“We needed it,” said Cloquet-Esko-Carlton coach Glen Sorenson, who handed out citrus fruit to the winners in each race category: a grapefruit for first place, an orange for second and smaller clementines for third, fourth and fifth place.

Nordic ski races are an interesting mix of often harsh weather conditions and warm support from the hardy folk who attend them. Fans often clap for every skier, although they hollar loudest for their favorites. Volunteers — many wrapped in layers from head to toe — are numerous and good natured. It takes a small army to staff a Nordic ski race, from the people counting down the start for racers as they take off every 30 seconds, to those who work to groom the trails and direct skiers as the race unfolds, to the stalwart few who stand at the end marking racers and times as they charge across the finish line, while others collect the bibs and catch those who have spent all their energy.

Inside the chalet, it is warm and cozy. Cold fans and hungry skiers can order hot chocolate and wild rice soup, donuts, vegetables and more under the watchful eye of Hall of Fame CEC coaches Joe Nowak and Mike Marciniak, whose photos perch above the concession stand window. Antique wooden skis form a giant X above the fireplace, which is roaring and surrounded by chilled young people.

They’re happy youngsters, too, especially those from CEC.

The host team performed well Tuesday evening under the lights of Pine Valley, with Cloquet sophomore Aidan Ripp taking first place for the boys, while Carlton senior Erika Fox came in third for the varsity girls. Remarkably, the junior high boys team took the top three spots (and four of the top six), a sure sign of continued success for the Lumberjacks.

Editor’s note: For more results, find the Scoreboard for Nordic skiing in this week’s sports section.